Thursday, March 27, 2008

Did I say web"comic"? I meant web"reference to some stupid piece of programming language in place of any actual jokes"

Every once in a while, Mr. Munroe decides that rather than tell a "joke" in his "comic" he will just talk about how awesome computer programming is. Ok. Clearly he is attempting to follow T-Rex's advice here, wherein we are told that "The more obscure a joke is, the less people there are who'll get it, but the MORE they'll find it correspondingly HILARIOUS!" except that rather than tell a joke, he just makes a reference, which is not the same. Note that this is only a small subset of the "jokes about computer science" category, some which don't even suck that hard. These are only comics where the whole point is replaced by a reference, not a joke. Read them and see what I mean!

327 - this one really pisses me off for some reason
the whole fucking leet series


  1. I just want you to know, that for people who know SQL or have worked with databases, #327 is hilarious. "Bobby Tables"... gets me every time...

    In any case, I think your one-size-fits-all approach to humor is ill-considered. Just because a joke is built off a reference you don't understand, doesn't mean there is no joke. Empty reference is a terrible problem in nerd culture (see #17), and you're drawing the line in the wrong place.

    When a joke is in place (and I can't stress that enough), obscurity-of-reference makes a joke more unexpected, thus more absurd, thus more funny.

    Curmudgeonly yours,

  2. Clearly the databases I have worked with are not complicated enough...Perhaps I am wrong about 327. I will have to think about that.

    What do you mean by my "one size fits all approach"?

  3. Hi Carl, I think you have some interesting points about xkcd on this blog, but in this case, I agree wholeheartedly with Pat's comments above. (Except for the 1337 series; that was just stupid.) Just because you don't get the joke doesn't mean it isn't there, or that it isn't funny.

    I think that when Pat talked about a "one-size-fits-all" approach to humor, he was referring to that phenomenon. It's frustrating to see something that's supposed to be funny, but not get the joke. However, xkcd's author isn't trying to offend people who aren't programmers--he's just thinking of jokes and putting them up on his site.

    Since Pat used it, I'll explain "Bobby Tables" further: If the comic was "just a reference," it would have gone like this:

    A: Oh man, my site got hacked!
    B: What happened?
    A: I don't know.
    B: Let me see... oh! You fell victim to an SQL injection attack. You idiot!
    A: Wow, it's so hilarious that I'm an idiot!

    But, that isn't how it went. There's a really clever joke in that comic, and explaining it is beyond the scope of this comic, but I want to stress that none of the comics you link to above are jokeless.

  4. Do I really seem offended? I'm not.

    I get the joke (if you want to call it that) with Bobby Tables. His parents gave him a name that, when entered into the school's database, erased everything. I think it's stupid. He's saying "HA HA, what if I made someone's names fuck stuff up, ha ha, like instead of a name he had a programming language."

    I'm pretty sure I get all the jokes above (and if I'm missing something important in Bobby Tables, tell me, but I really feel like I understand all there is to know) I just think they suck and exist mainly to show off, as I've said, random bits of coding.

    Seriously, look at 353. Excluding the mild humor of the "everything in the medicine cabinet" line, what's the joke?

    I should note that it's been several dozen comics since I had to put anything on this list, which is an encouraging sign.

  5. You don't really have to know anything about programming to work out what some of the programming jokes are... for example, that Bobby Tables one is obvious, but still I don't find it funny.

    It's like people who make complicated maths or science jokes... Even when I completely understand them, I genuinely think most of them aren't very funny. They're just an excuse for people to show how intellectual they are by getting the obscure joke.

  6. I think that GOTO, the Ballmer Peak, Fight, and 1337: Part One manage to stand on their own. Enough explanation is provided for anyone who doesn't understand the topic matter to at least get the joke.

    Also, Compiler Complaint could stand simply on the strength of its alt text (although that possibly goes two words past the peak of funny).

  7. As a perl programmer, 353 (Python) is my least favourite xkcd comic and really marks the beginning of the end of xkcd funny. And python, really, it disturbs me that randall has drunk the koolaid on that one. I don't see how a language with significant whitespace, really messed up scoping rules and patchy module support is 'fun'. With perl, hello world is just print "Hello World!\n"; or (in 5.10) say 'Hello World!'; (perl's print is a lot like C's printf, though it does include a very c-like printf function). And as for antigravity we had that solved years ago, just 'use Physics::AntiGravity;'.

    It seems randall 'chose' python on its hype-score, not technical merits

  8. I frequently read the XKCD comics and see jokes that I don't immediately get -- but instead of whining about how in-crowd humor is unfair, I just go on that ol' Internet and google it.

    i.e. I have yet to take my higher level math courses, so, for example, the title text on the most recent one (Wednesdays) where it says "I invoke Rule 34 on Wolfram's Rule 34" -- I spent about 15 minutes between first reminding myself what "invoking rule 34" meant, and then finding out who Wolfram was.

    I agree with the person earlier who said that the Bobby Tables one was hilarious (heck it even gets used as a tag on slashdot when SQL injection is mentioned). We had that one hanging on our office door for a while.

    I, for one, really enjoy esoteric humor -- obscure references, inside jokes, etc. So what if you don't get the joke -- you're obviously using the Internet, go look it up.
    If you're too lazy to do your homework, then don't read it - no one is making you.

  9. @Aaron

    But it's so much more fun to just get pissed off about it!

  10. Aaron - I would say that the problem isn't that I don't get the joke, the problem is when there is no real joke at all, and instead there is just an obscure reference with the theory being that by sticking in a "punchline" that's so obscure only a few people get it, they will be so happy that they see the reference they will confuse that with actual humor. I do think that T-Rex summarized it best.

    I have no problem with obscure jokes - some of my favorite xkcds are the two Katamari comics, which I would say is pretty obscure - but that's because there is a joke and a reference, not just the latter.

    Anon - damn straight.

  11. I'm going to have to call shenanigans on your treatment of #323 (Ballmer Peak).

    This is quintessential xkcd, and contains no less than 4 nerdy references -- only one has to do with actual programming.

    1) The pun between the [Steve] Ballmer peak and the Balmer series.

    2) I think that any programmer who drinks has tried programming drunk -- it doesn't work very well. The idea that there is a special BAC range that confers "superhuman" programming skills is funny in a I-wish-that-were-true-but-it-could-never-happen sort of way.

    3) The punchline about Windows ME -- that the programmers had to have been drunk, it was that bad.

    4) The alt-text really has two jokes -- the apple schnapps pun, and the idea that Apple would go so far as to use an alcoholic IV drip as an explanation for their high quality software.

    There is no way you can lump this comic into the category of non-funny "programming" references. The jokes just went over your head.

  12. 1) What does programming drunk have to do with the Balmer series? If they just have "bal(l)mer" in them it's a little lame.

    2) Not being a drunk programmer, I don't know if this idea is funny to drunk programmers. I suspect it's too random. Would people laugh at a joke about a certain BAC range that makes driving easier? No, because it's so clearly false.

    3) Yes, the punchline is that Windows ME sucked. It's a) a joke we've all heard 1000 times, and b) it's just a programming reference, really. "ha ha, the programming of windows me was done in a subpar fashion ha ha!" the point is that that's all there is - a reference that I think falls short of a joke.

    4) Alt-texts are often exceptions to what I say. They usually are much better than the comic.

  13. Well, you can see how different people have different humour.
    I do like a lot of xkcd jokes ( I do not like all, obviously), you do not. Thats ok.

    On the 'punchline' question: Not all humour must have a punchline. At least not for me. But I'm a person that likes monty python...

    I just don't see how I should care enough about you not liking xkcd to read your blog.

    Incidentally: I read all the comics you recommend in your FAQ - sucks hugely and like them very much, but I like QC as well. Or Indexed. Even though they are rarely LOL funny, they bring me in a good mood and make me laugh from time to time. I like them :-) Just like xkcd.

  14. Mr B: Not sure if you are talking about the Ballmer Peak comic or just in general, but here is the deal: Not all comics have to have a punchline and they can still be funny (though on xkcd these days usually they are not) but in this case, it's quite obvious that Randall was trying to have a punchline. setup-setup-setup-JOKE and I just happen to think that the joke is pretty lame.

    I'm sorry you don't care about the blog BECAUSE YOU HAVE TO READ IT NO MATTER WHAT YOU THINK.

  15. Oh, sorry, I was mainly talking about the bobby tables Joke. But the thing is: I have never come across a joke that is funny when you explain it. Explain the joke and you kill the joke.

    But as I said: You do most certanly not have to like anything I like.

    And as you proved in that comment: you can even be genuenly funny:-)

    Greets from Oslo

  16. I thought 340 was pretty funny. She wrote a love note, but screwed up his computer in the process. So now you're saying that anything remotely related to computers is unacceptable?

  17. Goodness, you seem very eager to assume that I am forbidding all jokes of any kind. Jokes about computers are ok. As I said, in this very post which I know you read carefully, these particular bad computer science jokes are "only a subset on the 'jokes about computer science' category, some of which don't even suck that hard." I think you're grossly misconstruing my words to make my critique look ridiculously petty.

  18. I'm surprised that you missed 221.

  19. Hm - I'm not sure that counts. I think the joke is off of what it means to be random. People would use that code to generate lots of different random numbers, and the 4 was originally chosen randomly, but since it will always be the same random number the program is useless. I'm not sure it's what I am going for in this list - as it turns out, the kind of jokes I am going for in this list are pretty damn rare, so I guess I have high standards or something.

  20. I think you're analyses are quite inconsistent.
    While the quality of a joke is a matter one's own opinion, I have a very hard time wrapping my head around the idea that 340 is just a "reference". The reference has very little to do with it. The prime point seems to be revenge exacted in some nerdy way. In fact, if you want to get really technical, the "reference" fails to hold weight to technical scrutiny. Overwriting a boot sector is generally not a catastrophic problem as a simple partition layout means reconstructing it is a simple task. Furthermore, I would argue that a "boot sector" isn't exactly an obscure reference as the graveness of its demise is commonly referred to in virus hoaxes forwarded around by morons.

    On the otherhand, your dismissal of 221 as being more of a joke seems inconsistent with your constant denigration of references simply because they are "old" or beaten to death. In 221 I can't see any real comment other than an exact rehash of a common anecdote told in books like Applied Cryptography and Numerical Recipes (p 277 in the old online edition).

  21. I'm sorry I'm sure you've heard it all a thousand times - but number 327 made me laugh out loud. (like for realz). I don't actually 'get' the reference, but it's pretty obvious. So I guess I just like the supercool mum character teaching the school about computing. Isn't it a nice change from the quirky twentysomething nerds in every other comic?

  22. The joke IS "everything in the medicine cabinet." And calling it stupid, and placing sarcastic HAHAs everywhere isn't gonna get anoyone to agree with you. Programming jokes is xkcd's style. They're aimed at the computer geek audience, and if you don't like them, then WHY THE FUCK ARE YOU STILL READING THIS?!!

  23. the comic is NOT aimed at computer nerds and you can find no evidence of it.

    the joke is not the "medicine cabinet" line; if so, it would be the last line of the comic, and he wouldn't immediately say it was wrong. In other words, for the comic to be funny he has to have actually learned to fly because of eating crazy chemicals but he clearly says he is flying because of Python. So the chemicals are just so he can say "PS dudes i ate a bunch of crazy chemical! HA HA!"

    that last ha ha was just for you, anon

  24. James wrote:
    >> 2) I think that any programmer who drinks has
    >> tried programming drunk -- it doesn't work
    >> very well. The idea that there is a special
    >> BAC range that confers "superhuman"
    >> programming skills is funny in a I-wish-that-
    >> were-true-but-it-could-never-happen sort of
    >> way.

    This is not true: it certainly does work, although my peak is certainly lower than this, and I don't know that the valley prior to it is anywhere near that deep. It is more analogous to writer's block (worrying about things you shouldn't need to worry about, and not being able to write anything) than it is to driving. Driving is not (or should not) be a creative activity, so that's a silly comparison, Carl. Now I will say that *reading/understanding* a new piece of code is not made easier drunk...just writing new code. And I've written some mighty fine C code this way.