Sunday, August 17, 2008

Comic 463: Special Guest Post

[Vote fraud is a serious business. Request a paper ballot when you go to vote this November. Unless you support different candidates than me, in which case, don't.]

Voting Machines
As I have occasionally alluded to, I have been thinking about getting guest writers to post here. Hearing the same voice on every xkcd strip may get tiring. So here's our first one, from Mr. Stanley Spitz:

This comic is pretty good. I mean, who doesn't chuckle when they're anticipating under-age rape? Only normally-adjusted adults, and none of them read (or blog about) xkcd anyway. But we can't just settle for "pretty good" and "chuckles" and "rape" and move on with our lives because our blog a mission (see left). Does our friend Randall have a mission? Is he using protection? Is it ribbed or spiraled? This comic helps us look at these tough questions.

The most important thing about "Voting Machines" is that it uses dialog at the thorough expense of any visual humor.

"But Stan," you may ask, "isn't this true of every xkcd? I mean, they're all talking stick figures."

"Huh. I GUESS," I might reply.

"Furthermore," you may continue, "aren't the emphasis on dialogue and the deliberately amateurish art part of the fun, even the satire, of the strip?"

"Well, crap, you've got me there," I might say. But I wouldn't say that because I've got a bigger, rantier point to make.

Indeed, the satire of using stick figures for a comic is pretty neat. Next time you open a newspaper, think about how many of the comics could have their figures replaced by featureless stick-figures with no loss of effect. Consider today's "Pearls Before Swine,"

Fig 1

The early xkcd comics ingeniously comments on this sad state of affairs. The smudgy hand drawn-art and the stick figures devoid of any expression cleverly show what little art is left in today's comic strips.

Fig 2

But we all get into trouble when we forget the joke. For example, I used to deliberately mispronounce "Chipotle" as "chä-pōt-əl" to make fun of people who said it like that. Now, I've just gotten into the habit and look like an ass when I say "Guys, let's hit Chä-pōt-əl," without realizing it.

So it is with Randall. These days, his characters aren't so amateurish and unexpressive that they're a form of statement -- they're just poorly drawn. Like today, they've got some expression (what with the pondering in panel one and the gesticulating in panels two and three), but it (1) doesn't add anything to the comic and (2) weakens the satire. I could point out the weaknesses with this xkcd strip by replacing the characters with early-xkcd characters.

Fig 3

And when you produce the thing you used to satire, it's time for a little soul-searching.



I don't agree with everything he wrote, but it's still interesting. I'll have a post later tonight about the actual text and joke of the comic.

If you are interested in writing something for this blog, shoot me an e-mail -


  1. But wait, the main speaker reads things off a monitor -- and sits in a chair! He'd fit right in at my office! His wit would instruct and motivate a fleet of white-collar workers while our programs compile OH GOD DOES HE PROGRAM TOO??

    Spitz did a handsome job. Until Munroe designs some (inevitably controversial) faces, perhaps xkcd should be called a blog from now on, featuring occasional sketches?

  2. I'm no expert on voting software fraud, but I'm not sure Randall's point actually makes any sense whatsoever. I mean, won't electronic voting machines necessarily be hooked up to some kind of system to transmit the votes to some other machine? I don't know. I can't say for sure that it's Randall pretending at expertise in a subject he's actually relatively ignorant about (like with that subprime lending/national debt short story), and of course he DOES know computer science, so... I don't know.

    It still strikes me as kind of a weak analogy that's mostly there for the ostensible "humor."

  3. Ideally, the voting computer would be hooked up *only* to the central server that's tabulating vote totals. And that machine would only be connected to the terminals counting votes. No access from outside. That means A/V software would be pointless. The fact that it's on there means there's a point where the system is visible on an outward facing point. Which means it's vulnerable to attack. The chances of anyone being able to do anything in the narrow window might be slim, but why have that point at all? So, imo, the comic has a valid point. And the analogy kinda works, though it's disturbing on several levels...

  4. @ Mike

    Further, if a system like this is suseptible to viruses you're doing it very wrong. you shouldn't be using an OS on a voting machine but a straight hardware level software (think video game consoles) that would make viruses next to impossible (it's one closed source program that's the only thing running, you'd be lucky to get a copy of it let alone write a virus). so yah it fits the condom analogy very well. but what the fuck is this post about? all I got out of it is that he doesn't like the art because it's too good.

  5. Personally I think that that particular Pearls Before Swine couldn't have wroked if it had been drawn with excruciating detail. There's supposed to be some ambiguity at first as to what's happening in the second panel.