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How Diabetes Works

By David Mendosa

Last Update: August 24, 2001

What I like most about the How Diabetes Works Web page is its graphics. With five colorful and detailed drawing and two other photos, this is one of the most attractive pages about diabetes you can find anywhere on the Web. A professional and clear text complements the graphics.

Why would they write about diabetes?

How Diabetes Works is one of more than 500 pages on Marshall Brain's HowStuffWorks site. His site reminds me of one of my favorite books, The Way Things Work by David Macaulay.

This book is also one of Marshall's favorites. "I love his stuff," Marshall told me. "I have been a fan of his since I was a teenager."

But, in spite of the great graphics on the How Diabetes Works page and elsewhere on the site, Marshall says that words rather than graphics are the strength of his site. Macaulay's books are the reverse.

"His gigantic talent is the art," Marshal says, "the style of his illustrations. So, in most of his books the art is in the front seat and words take the back seat. His talent for illustration is so immense that I can just pull images of his into my mind. It's just amazing what he can do with the perspectives and scales he chooses."

While How Diabetes Works doesn't make use of animated graphics, some other HowStuffWorks pages do. A link on the site's home page to the Amazing Animation Tour shows animated graphics on about 20 pages.

"The best-illustrated article that we have is How Car Engines Work," Marshall says. "That is one of my favorite articles. It also happens to be the first I ever wrote. I started it as a hobby at my kitchen table."

Another of Marshall's favorites is the article that Tom Harris wrote for the site on How Guide Dogs Work. "No one reads it, but I still love the article," he says. I also read and loved the article, but would not recommend it if you hate dogs. Otherwise, it's a very moving piece, and I would love to get a retired guide dog.

Marshall started HowStuffWorks in January 2000. Before that he taught computer science at North Carolina State University for six years. He still lives in North Carolina, but like me he was born at Santa Monica Hospital near Los Angeles. That was 40 years ago for him, and rather longer for me.

Now Marshall has a team of writers working for him. "I write on average one article a week, and each of the writers writes on average two articles a week. We produce at least one new article every day."

They published How Diabetes Works two months ago. It happens that Craig C. Freudenrich wrote it. "Craig is a generalist who came from a teaching background and loves science," Marshall says.

Why would they write about diabetes? "One of the funny things about HowStuffWorks is that the word 'stuff' allows you to write about everything," Marshall replies. "The problem is picking and choosing. Diabetes, like a lot of the articles we write, is something that shows up a lot either in our email or in the forums and it is also in the news quite a bit right now."

Even if you are an expert on having diabetes, you can learn what your body is doing to you by reading the How Diabetes Works page and studying the graphics. Soon, you may also be able to read it in a book.

Marshall didn't mention it to me, but he is taking his Web site to print. A publisher, Hungry Minds Inc., is bringing out How Stuff Works in September. That will bring Marshall even closer to following in the footsteps of his hero, David Macaulay. But no book will ever be able to match the breadth and scope of the HowStuffWorks Web site. 


The American Diabetes Association originally published this article on its Web site as one of my “About the Internet” columns.


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