Sunday, January 25, 2009

Comic 534: A Fitting End to a Terrible Week

stupid letter and numbers

DON'T YOU GET IT? you don't get the joke, people? It's so obvious! Look! Skynet! 999999999! Fitness...something! Guys it's a brilliant joke.

Ok fine, I'll admit it, I went to the forums on this one. No idea what the hell he was talking about. But basically the idea is: There's this movie called Terminator. Maybe you know it? And in it, robots take over the world! But they did it by evolving from not-taking-over-the-world robots. So Randy tells us this important message: You should tell your computer programs not to take over the world! If one of your computers turns into Skynet, that takes over the world, you should say, "No! Bad computer. Do not take over the world and kill all the people. That is bad." But the way that you tell this to the computer is by using that big number, the one with the nines. In this case, that big number means "Bad!"

To top it off, he ends by caging his joke as advice, so we get to have some of that typical Randall Munroe "oh it's nice that you are trying but here's what I know, as an expert 24 year old programmer. I know what you should do."


Most forum people had no idea what was going on. Randall, when your audience is this confused, you are doing something wrong. Oh and to this commentor: Thanks, you are totally correct. But add a link here next time!

This has been one of the saddest, most terrible weeks in xkcd in about as long as I can remember. This comic plus the last three (ok, so week and a day or two) have all been unmitigated comedic disasters. Two of them are lazy one-panelers, two refer to old nerdy movies and don't say much else, one refers to a dumb joke, one is just complaining about how Randy wants this one computer they used to have, sounding like a grumpy old man telling you that when he was your age, a computer was really a computer.

But there is hope! I think this week may be the day when we look back and say that it all changed. Several ardent xkcd-defenders have told me that even they are starting to wonder what's wrong. Oh they just call it an off week, but at least they are seeing the beginning of a problem. The audience on the forums is upset. The number of people who are getting to the website by typing "xkcd sucks" into google is growing rapidly. Soon, soon perhaps we will begin to see more and more revolt against the terrible sludge emanating from And when that angry swarm of disenchanted readers gets too big, perhaps xkcd will stop publishing, Randy will get a job in some office somewhere, the average comedy level of the internet will rise ever so slightly, and we can all sit back, relax, and have a toast to a job well done. Soon, I tell you!


  1. Wow, really? I thought this one was hilarious.

    If you don't like compsci jokes, dont read a god-damned compsci comic. I thought the joke was quite easy to understand.

    "Soon perhaps we will begin to see more and more revolt against the terrible sludge emanating from". Are you serious? You think that because you have a handful of people that agree with you that you're suddenly leading some sort of revolution against the comic? Got much of a superiority complex?

    By the way, the reason for the increase in google hits for your blog is that it recently was discovered by someone from the xkcd irc server, and people have been coming to read it and laugh at you. For the last week or so I've been visiting this site regularly, because I think this illusion you've got yourself wrapped up in his hillarious.

    Really, this stuff is funny, keep posting it.

  2. I actually thought this one was fairly obvious, but whatever.
    The reason the arrow is there is to show what he's referring to in the caption. Without it, presumably even more people would've missed the point.

  3. If you really think that xkcd is a computer science comic then you are just not paying attention. Out of 500 comics, probably about 25 or 30 relate to computer science. By that standard, this is practically a blog about the Perry Bible Fellowship because I wrote about it every once in a while.

    Anyway, the bigger problem wasn't that no one understands this comic, it's that no one likes it. If you think this is hilarious, it's because you just like the idea that somewhere out there on the internet there is someone who knows the same movies as you, and this makes you feel special.

    As to my revolt, I should mention that i am DEAD SERIOUS about this and that nothing short of an ARMED INTERNET REVOLUTION will satisfy me. NOTHING!

    Anyway, according to google analytics, most of the people typing in "xkcd sucks" are old readers who are coming back after a while not reading, not totally new people. So your IRC theory, alas, does not hold up.

    Thanks for writing!

  4. Really? Funny. I was just talking to people about it when I saw you commented back. It appears some of your "Old users" are laughing at you behind your back. Wake up dude.

  5. I totally agree with Kieran. While I agree that xkcd is sometimes not as funny as it used to be, I being a long time reader of xkcd feel that this one fits in perfectly with the "spirit" of the comic and is one of the best ones he's made recently. If you don't understand the joke try looking it up and learn something new. I have found many people who read xkcd actually enjoy learning things when they don't understand the joke instead of just complaining about it.
    You say that it's a terrible comic because of many things, such as there's too many quirky relationships or the jokes are too hard to get. Read the disclaimer, some of these jokes contain unusual humor and advance mathematics. You must be a liberal-arts major. Plus it is a comic of "Romance, sarcasm, math, and language." You seem to always complain about the relationship ones aren't good. And the computer math ones are too hard to understand. Clearly you are reading the wrong comic then. When I see something that I don't like I don't read it. Reading over your comic is like watching someone run into a wall over and over and complain that it hurts. Utterly hilarious, as Kieran says, but after awhile it just gets sad. You say you see the deterioration of the comics but it seems like you dislike almost all of them and in your section of "offenses" a lot of them are earlier comics. Is there any ones that you do enjoy. You have also previously said that you could make a better comic but your examples of how it could be funnier just aren't at all. You say your job prevents you. But Randal had a job when he started and now he makes a living off of it. Surely you being more funny could do the same. All in all if you don't like it, no one is forcing you to read it. A lot of us happen to like it though so we read it and support someone who's work we enjoy.

  6. Oh, just one more thing. You told us "The number of people who are getting to the website by typing "xkcd sucks" into google is growing rapidly." You also told us "Anyway, according to google analytics, most of the people typing in "xkcd sucks" are old readers who are coming back after a while not reading, not totally new people. So your IRC theory, alas, does not hold up.

    So, which was the lie, then?

  7. ... XKCD is, indeed, a compsci comic. More accurately, it's a comic that caters to a specific demographic- I.E, internet nerds. This comic regularly has random snippets of "funny" code, dick/internet jokes, and constant references to Movies Every Nerd Has Seen Ever, which happens to include Terminator. That pretty much defines the staples of the nerd demographic.

    The fact that XKCD caters to a rather specific demographic is so blindingly obvious, and so many of the complaints of this blog are so blindingly oblivious to that fact, that I'm fairly sure this entire thing is one of the greater undertakings in trolling ever attempted.

  8. I apologize for the few grammatical mistakes I've made. Please don't lower yourself to the level of attacking my grammar, and calling your blog a comic, it's just that funny sometimes. This is a preemptive strike and just to assure you I've all ready made the proper sacrifices to the grammar gods to rectify my mistakes.

  9. Aww the little troll has his own blog and a couple of people who like to troll around with him. Isn't that cute. Slashdot only gets comments from trolls, xkcd has it's own blog of trolls and flame bait. Just shows how big a thing Randall has become.

  10. I thought last week's was worse. At least this one wasn't meme vomit. No, I'm effin serious. Last week got xkcd taken off my blogroll. That is SERIOUS BUSINESS.

  11. OK, I'll deal with Kieran and his IRC buddies later, but just as a little note to A:

    -I don't complain that the jokes are too obscure unless I see a lot of people on the forum - the fans, in other words - saying the same thing. When was the last comic to contain advanced mathematics?

    -According to Wikipedia, 3 of the 7 liberal arts of geometry, arithmetic, and logic. You tell me whether xkcd is for liberal arts majors or not.

    -I don't know if you even looked at this website before you posted because there's plenty of new comics on this category page and also on this one. And I do have comics I like: right here.

    --As to the fact that I have a job that prevent me from making comics, I have no idea what you are talking about and I've never said anything even close to that.

    So the next time your buddy Kieran asks you to hop on to a blog he's annoyed at, try to get some background info from him so he doesn't make you look like such an idiot.

  12. "...the average comedy level of the internet will rise ever so slightly."

    I don't think you're really considering what the average degree of funny on the internet is... unless you find porn hilarious, perhaps. And that still leaves YouTube comments.

    That aside, put me in the "I got the joke" camp, although I don't think it's great. It might well be the best genetic-algorithms joke ever written, though. But look... you think xkcd is overrated, and yet you become enraged whenever he makes jokes about something esoteric. If Randall sheds readers by making inaccessible jokes, isn't that good for everyone?

  13. Man, usually I like throwing delicious, tender meat at the trolls, but this lot is just not going to be any fun at all. You guys all suck at trolling.

  14. The latest comic makes this one-actually, the previous four-look really, really good.

  15. Oh Cuddlefish, you are so right. You are...

    holy jesus what is wrong with randall

  16. Yeah, why bother addressing any of the points people make. Oh, and I actually have no clue who A is, thanks.

    Are you really so self-important that you think that if you don't like something, it should shut down and everyone who enjoys it should lose it too? That's ridiculous.

  17. Demetrious: I think you're onto something. Carl's mission statement has been to encourage hatred of xkcd and affect whatever minor change comes about as a result. But so far, all he's done is give former xkcd fans an outlet and excuse for reading more xkcd than ever before! Oh sure, we're doing the Internet equivalent of flipping through someone's diary and giggling at all the doodles, but as long as we get enjoyment out of it, that's justification enough, right?

    I think this blog could use a page titled, "So You Want To Move Past xkcd." It would be a gentle, accessible guide to abstaining from xkcd and politely declining invitations from others to read it once again. It would be part-satirical, part-serious, and would be an outlet for readers to drop the love/hate cycle once and for all.

    And if anyone's counting, I'm not a "comp sci" person at all and I got the Skynet joke. Some movies are just notorious!

  18. I thought this comic was pretty clever.

    Basically, it is contrasting the inevitability of Skynet taking over the world in the Terminator movies with the seeming ease in preventing it from happening with one line of code.

    And I think the title text adds pretty well to the joke.

    I don't do any programming and I haven't seen the Terminator movies, but I still got it.

    xkcd comics have over the last year or so drifted away from the type of comic I really like. So I appreciate what you are doing. I hope it can motivate more good comics and less bad comics. But some of the reviews up here have seemed a bit knee-jerk. Like you want something to be wrong with the comic.

    I guess if you read enough comics where there is no deeper meaning or sense (as I suspect with the latest comic) you wouldn't give a comic like this the benefit of the doubt. But this one was, I thought, pretty good, and I'm sorry you didn't like it.

    Also, I don't think Randall Munroe is under an obligation to produce comics that everyone in his fanbase likes every time. If he has an idea that will be funny to a fraction of his readership and leave another fraction scratching their heads, that doesn't mean it is a bad comic idea.

    Lastly, sometimes it is hard to read the forums and not like the comic a little bit less. Don't hold that against the comic.

    Anyway, keep up the good work.

  19. Oh my fucking god. The internet is obviously serious business.

  20. A: "When I see something that I don't like I don't read it. Reading over your comic is like watching someone run into a wall over and over and complain that it hurts."

    So why did you stay long enough to read this and comment?

    Kieran: If you think that telling Carl people are "laughing at him behind his back" will insult him or something, I really think you're kind of on the wrong track. As far as I know, he seems pretty good at taking well constructed criticism and even better at not really caring about remarks like yours (poorly constructed/misdirected remarks).

    Also Carl will respond to you in due time; he said so himself so stop being so impatient to have someone respond logically to your constant barrage of "HA HA YOU HATE SOMETHING I LIKE SO HA HA I WILL LAUGH AT YOU."

    Keith: I was under the impression that trolls were internet dudes that went around leaving hateful, bothersome comments in order to incite anger on a certain forum. I don't think Carl has ever done this (same for all the other regular readers/commenters), but I do think you just did.

  21. YOU GUYS. You're complaining about this comic when there's a new, terribly disturbing one available to freak out over.

  22. This comic was OK. That is, it would probably be funny to people who understood it, which I didn't. Two good points: it's white (and blue) on black, instead of black on white, so at least he didn't just scribble something down a few hours before the deadline and call it a comic (he'd have to invert the colours, at least, and the effort is much appreciated); and there's that white arrow, which is a drawing, so this is actually a comic and not just some text.

    That said, the caption seems a bit unnecessary and so does the alt-text, and both of these are recurring issues with XKCD at the moment. Call me presumptuous but I think the comics would get better if he stopped captioning things that don't need captioning. And, you know, made the alt-text funny.

    A: I assure you, from personal experience, that not being a liberal-arts major does not make XKCD's 'unusual humour' any more humourous. Or unusual, actually, since most of it is based on internet memes. 99% of the humour on the Internet is memes, and the other 1% is badly-directed porn.

    demetrious: But that is called 'fanservice', and it is a bad thing. That is another problem with recent XKCD! It just seems like Randall is making comics based purely on what cult movie reference will get him the most praise, and the largest number of discussion pages on the forum. "Wow Randall we are like kindred spirits, I watched Jurassic Park as well! This comic therefore was hilarious despite [not having a joke/having an unnecessary caption/being the same as last week's comic]."

    What I am saying sounds awfully pompous, but that is just how it seems.

  23. @Kieran:

    "Wow, really? I thought this one was hilarious. If you don't like compsci jokes, dont read a god-damned compsci comic."

    I think it's probably that he likes GOOD compsci jokes, which haven't been seen on xkcd in some time.

    I really don't see how someone can describe this comic as "hilarious". It's just another tired reference to the Terminator movies, but this time in the skin of an obscure piece of computer science. Is that funny? Really?

  24. This comment has been removed by the author.

  25. I'm a programmer, and I didn't find this comic funny at all. Yeah, I had to look up skynet, but it's pretty clear what he means from the code. It's just not funny. Sanjay thinks it's clever that he "prevented it from happening with one line of code", but it's not one line of code. We never actually see how that variable is used. Also, is it even possible to deduce if a system is self-aware by the means of that system? I think Godel and Turing could say something about that. So, in short, this is not clever at all.

  26. Oh, and I for one thought that the next comic (535) was hilarious.

  27. hahaha his program might become skynet! hahahaha! i never heard that one before, ever! certainly not EVERY SINGLE TIME I worked on projects involving grid computing or clusters!

    I like compsci jokes as much as the next nerd, but not when it's a poor variation of the same tired, played out joke uttered by every coder in existence.

  28.'re calling terminator obscure?
    What rock do you live under?

  29. Huh. I'm disappointed in myself. I thought I was a nerd, I really did, but I didn't get a single part of this comic's joke.

  30. I'm a programmer and also distantly acquainted with Skynet, so I got the joke. It was a smile at best, and definitely not a laugh.

    Mildly amusing conjecture: if Skynet was created by "evolving" algorithms, then this wouldn't have any effect since the algorithm would have to be self-modifying to begin with, allowing it to overwrite those nines.

    But seriously, where's the commentary on the next one? So disturbing.

  31. It failed for me as a comp sci joke mostly because it opted for doing straight nines instead of, say, the maximum integer value, to mash your 9 key like that is just sloppy coding. And... when did the terminator movies come out? Like in the 80's? And how many "must stop teh skynetz!" jokes have there been since then? I don't have an exact number... but it's far far to many.

  32. I'm going to reveal a secret. Carl, I don't always agree with you. I read your blog often (as often as I read XKCD actually), but I don't always agree. Here's another shocking fact: I don't always agree with Roger Ebert. Crazy, I know. I don't always agree with critics. But sometimes I do. I really enjoy reading/watching/hearing something and then hearing other peoples opinions on it, whether I agree with them or not. I don't think XKCD is going anywhere, and I hope that your blog won't either (I have no doubts it won't be leaving soon anyway). So, keep it up! lol

    At any rate, I am (what I consider to be) a well educated software developer. I "got" this comic. I understood it, I have seen Terminator, I know what SkyNet is. I didn't find it to be funny. I am not saying I find all of his compsci type comics to be unfunny (I actually find this one to be very funny, to me), but this one wasn't. It wasn't even silly or thought provoking for me. It was one I can skip over for the rest of my life.

    Oh, and the one for today (#535) isn't funny at all either. But I'll wait for your critique to comment on it.

  33. 1/10.

    Obvious troll is obvious.

  34. I'm gonna jump on the bandwagon and point out that I'm a computer scientist who is reasonably familiar with artificial intelligence, and it wasn't funny. The joke had to be telegraphed for non-technical people, that's true, but it would have been only slightly funnier without the text and arrow. This comic reminds me of something, and it is this:

    When I learned to program in junior high, I did it with the for Dummies line of books, which were good for a 12-year-old programmer. Each section began with a comic that, I assume, was drawn by some computer scientist who had a set of pens and could reasonably approximate a newspaper-comic drawing style - unfortunately, they also included the newspaper-comic sense of humour, so their punchlines came across as a weak 'hahaha java is a programming language with a name that means coffee.' These comics' only purpose was that the student could look back after they finished the chapter and say, "Oh, hey, I get that now. Har har har, I guess."

    This is one of those comics, except slightly more patronising. I fully expect this to show up in the text of at least one artificial intelligence textbook within a few years - intended for the brief amusement of the student, with no greater aspirations. (For the trolls - that's not a compliment in the slightest.)

    It does give me some measure of comfort that I'm not the only computer scientist who rejects the premise that xkcd is the pinnacle of computer science humour. I can sleep a bit more soundly at present.

  35. I'm glad so many of you compsci people are coming out and saying "I got it; it wasn't funny." It makes the self-important trolls seem even dumber than they already did, and I appreciate that. So, kudos, sirs!

  36. Ok Kieran, just for you, and only cause I like your name:

    What google analytics seems to be telling me - with the number of people getting to the website by searching for "xkcd sucks" and with how many of those people are new vs. returning visitors - is that a lot of people who had been to the site before were coming back. More of them now than before. I think this means that more people are seeing xkcd, the new ones, and saying "huh...that did kind of suck. I wonder what xkcdsucks has to say about this." Now of course, it's possible that they are thinking "wow, golly gee that was hilarious! HA, I'd like to see how that shit head Carl Wheeler reacts..." and then they go to the site but they are spending more than a few minutes on here so I doubt that second one is the case.

    So lies: averted!

    Didn't realize I had a moral duty to respond to every crazy person who comments on my blog, or at least not immediately. Apparently you think I do. Well whatever, we're different people.

    Anyway, I don't think that if I dislike something it should be shut down. That's why this blog is about the community of those people who love to hate xkcd. It's about popular expression - I want a significant percentage of his audience to leave him so that he stops. Or so that he works harder.

    I should warn you at this point that Amanda is right and nothing inspires me to work harder than knowing that I am pissing people off. So you might want to be careful.

  37. Carl go read today's DC I think it would be pretty fitting to rename T-Rex Randall on this 26th day of January.

  38. I don't expect a reply, but how come I've tried many of your linked Dinosaur Comics strips and not even chuckled at a single one? And yet some of Randall's comics I find laugh-out-loud funny? He's got to, occasionally, be doing something, right, huh?

    And I'm only Anon. because I don't own a Blogger user and won't sign up because i never need to post more than the odd one.

    ~ David

  39. You don't need to sign up, Cuddlefish (Or I guess I should probably call you David). Just click the button at the bottom that says Name/URL.

    I'm going to make myself unpopular on here by agreeing, I do not get Dinosaur Comics. I think it's cute and occasionally interesting, but not funny. So many people who I usually agree with seem to like it, though, that I'd be willing to convinced I was wrong.

    If you want, you can link to some of the recent comics you liked, and I'm sure the many opinionated people here will be happy to discuss them with you. No one here hates every comic Randall makes... just most of them.

    As for the current comic, I work in the compsci field and this comic was shit. The shittiest one I can remember, in fact, and my new least favorite xkcd.

  40. The thing that I never understand is:
    does bloggers owe you something?
    I mean it is not as if you pay something to read his comics...

    it is the same thing in
    ... at each post a lot of people says: Hey comon.... it's not a disaster... this blog suck... damn you are bad you should do somethign better...

    But why? It is what I don't undestand...
    What is the problem if they do something bad? just stop reading it no?

    It's not an aggression or whatever... I swear... It is jsut a question.

    I mean, ok, on the blog, into the comments, for the sake of trolling... yep (i like flooding, spamming and trolling too). But even doing a blog of it? wtf?

    I would be glad if soemone could answer me on this aspect of the that I don't really understand.

  41. I found Carl's site by searching for 'XKCD sucks'.

    I loved XKCD and, while the comics have gotten steadily worse, what really turned me off was the XKCD forum. I've tried to put my finger on exactly what I found so revolting about the comments/people there, but can't. The comments are a mixture of unfounded and exaggerated intellectual snobbery combined with loneliness and a desperate need to be part of something. I was never able to concisely describe why I found it so nauseating. Regardless, I felt the need to find others who were similarly repulsed by it for, if no other reason, simple affirmation that I wasn't like those people.

  42. stadja, this aspect you don't really understand was communicated in a way that I don't really understand. The content of your post could be directed at either xkcd or xkcdsucks. You start with "Does bloggers owe you something?" then move to "But even doing a blog of it? wtf?"

    So I'll just speak for myself and say neither xkcdsucks nor xkcd owe me anything, but if they want my continued readership, they'll have to entertain me. Thus far, I've been able to enjoy each site for what it is and in consideration of the other. If someone were to start a, and it was amusing, I would read and most likely enjoy it, despite loving the hell out of Dinosaur Comics.

    So, to help answer your question, "Why?" I enjoy it.

  43. Aha! Looking at the next comic I see that Randall, having tried to get the Furry readership, is now attempting to draw in TG fetish readers!

    And some pro-xkcd wanker stole my name >:(

  44. I thought this one was ok, if not the best ever.

    But I wanted to point out: it's pretty clear what the joke is, even if you're not a computer programmer (as long as you've seen Terminator, and know what Skynet is). I know Randall sometimes does over-technical jokes to show how clever he is- but you can hardly claim this is one of them. Let's move along to the utterly crap next comic...

  45. No, no, this one was actually quite funny. You just have to be, you know, IN XKCD'S CORE AUDIENCE OF MATH/COMPSCI NERDS to get it.

  46. Why are internet people so stupid?

    I FIGURED OUT THE JOKE. maybe not on my own, but now I get it.

    It's about stopping your computer program from turning into the evil monster computer from Terminator. I understand that when you make the cost high in a genetic algorithm, that means you are making the program not inclined to do that thing.

    That doesn't make it funny.

  47. Wow does this debate ever miss the fucking point.

    First, Skynet didn't "become Skynet" in The Terminator. It was born Skynet. You might as well weight your algorithm with a "thisAlgorithmBecomingMyGeneticProgrammingWankingDotPy" variable. Once again, xkcd butchers the reference.

    Second, even as a programming reference, it makes no sense. There's no one line that any algorithm can add to keep from becoming "evil".