Thursday, February 4, 2010

Comic 697: Cut It Out

Tensile vs. The Anger of 1000 Men On The Internet
My goodness, my post is late again. I apologize guys, but you must admit: With all the excitement over the opening of the Space Elevator (finally!) I could barely take my eyes off the television long enough to read this comic - appropriately current event themed - let alone post on it.

Wait, no, that's not right. Let me think harder.


OH I REMEMBER, that's right, there was no grand opening of a Space Elevator! They must have canceled it at the last minute. Right?

Wait no, let me try one more time: People sometimes talk about a space elevator, but it has not been built, or even been in the news at all! That's right. I knew it was something like that. Which is weird, because this comic might be funny if there were a space elevator, not just some astronerds talking about one, or if it had at least been in the news in some way recently. Has it? I sure didn't see it.

So let's examine this comic within the context of, you know, reality. This is just "Hey, if there were a space elevator, you could cut it with scissors! maybe!" Which may or may not be true, I don't really care. The point is, yes, if it were possible, then it would be possible. If we built a giant Space Cannon that shot astronauts to Mars mario-64 style, then yes, you could fill it with marshmallows as well and have them get toasted in the atmosphere before landing far away. If such a thing existed. Which it does not.

Oh I guess also it's a poem; that's nice (though I didn't notice it at first, even with the obvious "put the rhyming words on the other side of the space elevator from the other words") but I don't really care. I also don't care that the title has a pun on "shear," because that is not nearly clever enough to justify the rest of the comic.

The End.

oh not the end: fanservice, space nerds. end.


  1. Someone picked up on the point that the so called space elevator was hole punched to hang that flag up.
    I agree, the comic is excrement. Is that fucking mr. Hat? Would mr. Hat do that? Would the governments of the world not learn to not let mr. Hat touch anything that has the least semblance of importance?

    Important questions people.

  2. "The point is, yes, is it were possible, then it would be possible."

    "If such a think existed."


  3. carl is a well-known drunkard and incompetent

  4. In the latest comic somebody said that it's weird that only the girl gets to use profanity, but that person has clearly missed the context. The dark-haired girl is Megan and she is sick to death of Randall constantly being on the phone with her just so he can hear everything she does. A sudden realization what a creep Randall is sends her in a profanity-ridden tirade, demanding him to hang up the phone (why do people still say "hang up" referring to cellphones, there is no place to hang them up!). She wants him to move on and find somebody else. Unfortunately for her, Randall has other ideas. He discovers that Megan uses Google Latitude and tracks her every movement as she uses construction tools to pleasure herself. He realizes that Megan wants someone strong and powerful, not a wimp like him. He breaks down into tears.

  5. "Hang up" is what Orwell would call a dead metaphor, or a metaphor that is now used as an ordinary word. It is like saying that someone has an "iron will." It does not evoke images of iron; it merely means that their will is very strong. Similarly, when you say "hang up," you do not think of hanging the phone on anything; you merely think that you are disconnecting the conversation.

    This is as opposed to a dying metaphor, which is not treated just like an ordinary word, but is rather a cliche. His example was "Achilles heel." It still suggests the metaphor, but it is losing its meaning because it is neither original nor useful.

    But you only asked about hanging up a phone. Now you know!

  6. For the new comic, my first thought was that I liked the stalemate in panels 8 and 9, so the punchline caught me off guard and ruined the good thing that was going. Then I remembered an early comic and thought how he'd already made a better comic on essentially the same topic.

    My first shot at making something I liked better was to remove the last panel (the alt-text already covers that and, as Rob pointed out, does it well) and introduced an old gag (e.g. as done by Bugs and Daffy) hoping that having them both do it would justify it. I also tried to leave the end intentionally ambiguous. Are they thinking about how they lost the game? How they lost their love? About calling back? About calling someone else? Are they both thinking the same things?

    But I thought the gag was too old and that it ruined the alt-text, so I tried again without it and one of Munroe's favorite lines just to try something else. I don't know if the line works and it also sort of messes up the alt-text.

    I don't know, what do you think?

    Also, the marshmallow idea is brilliant. I could go for some right now.

  7. Shouldn't it be "if it were possible" and not "is it were possible" ?

  8. I was half-expecting you to make a few comments about the guys head not being attached to his body,a few personal attacks on Randall, but I guess those are for when you run out of ideas.

    Also since this is set in the future, maybe someone invented a pair of garden shears that can even cut through space elevators!

    As for it not being in the news, maybe it's inspired by say... the recent stuff about NASA's budget?

  9. I'd say it's inspired by Randall's obsession with space elevators, and because his obsession makes him QUIRKY and FUNNY!

    The latest comic... since when are cheesy romantic comedy jokes fit for xkcd?

  10. What's going on with the guy on the right's arms? Is he holding a clipboard or gun, or is he facepalming?

  11. I like how people are quick to claim that these theoretical space elevators are so perfectly designed that should the "ribbon" be cut at the bottom, the elevator would sinply float in place, allowing them to simply reattach the ribbon to the foundation. Engineers they obviously aren't, because nothing could ever be designed, much less constructed, to behave that way.

  12. "The latest comic... since when are chessy romantic comedy jokes fit for xkcd?"

    Have you been living under a fucking rock? You should expect this kind of crap from Randall, given his track record.

  13. I was hoping for some more anger. I thought this one was really awful.

  14. WTF. I am the well known drunkard, not Carl.


  15. guys mspaintadventures has been SO BORING LATELY

  16. Forget the strip, I´d like to point out to anybody that cares from the channel that I am currently in Mexico City.

    You should all come visit me!

  17. Oh and the strip is pooper too.

  18. I would contend that I am the most well-know drunkard, aloria

  19. That marshmallow cannon seems like something Mr. Hat would do if NASA were to build a giant space cannon.

    Hey Carl you should make comics that don't suck, because then you could claim you were doing better and had no reason to be jealous.

    Captcha: Winesse

  20. ha ha, i make so many typos. they have been corrected. MSPaintadventures has been really boring and confusing lately, sort of all the stuff I didn't like about problem sleuth (ie, "what the FUCK is going on?") with none of the fun stuff.

  21. It sucks they only made the space elevator big enough to fit one person. They should've thought that through.

  22. That is a great point - I think I noticed the ridiculously small size at first, but then I forgot about it when I was overwhelmed by the rest of the stupidity.

  23. Hey guys, you really need to see this. I was browsing Youtube and stumbled on this video, which makes basically identical joke to today's xkcd! Freaky, eh? It's like a xkcd reference 2 years into the future. Damn you, reality!

  24. @uncivlengr:

    I have to agree with those saying that the space elevator would keep floating. The end of the space elevator simply has to be in geostationary orbit, like a satellite -- they just couldn't build it any other way. It's not a question of being "perfectly designed," the whole point of a space elevator is that it's a ribbon connected to what would otherwise be a geostationary satellite (which current engineers already have down pretty well).

    If an existing geostationary satellite dropped a rope down to Earth, and then we tied that rope at the bottom, and then cut that rope, the rope would still just hang there like it did before we tied it. The satellite wouldn't suddenly fling away.

    So, another reason why the comic is dumb.

  25. Friday's comic was absolutely terrible. This one sucked too. It's a shame, because lately xkcd has been making some comics I thought were pretty good too.

  26. Hello there.

    I found this blog a few days ago, and read all of it.

    Even though i don't always agree, i like that relentless way of criticizing Xkcd.

    But what really convinced me you were right is discovering that comic 562 had been posted after comic 496, which i hadnt noticed earlier, since i read Xkcd in complete disorder.

    Keep up the good work.


  27. Friday's is twenty seconds of a bad stand up act, except there's not vocal inflection or gesturing or anything that could make it even remotely entertaining.

    The alt-text is much more egregious - it's yet another apple from Randall's "I'm a romantic because I have incredibly immature views on relationships" emo bullshit tree.

    Also: in what situations is it apropos to use "hookup" as a euphemism for sexual intercourse as opposed to "sleeping together" or "making love" or just "sex"? They all seem so much classier.

  28. "Hookup" isn't a euphemism for sexual intercourse; it's a euphemism for casual sexual encounters that don't necessarily involve intercourse. It's a pretty common term, often associated with college campuses (there is such a creature as a "hookup culture" on most campuses). It's pretty much the exact right word to use in this situation.

  29. Also, "classiness" is not always the most significant criterion used to judge the appropriateness of a word. Or a criterion at all.

  30. I'd just like to point out that Carl's simile doesn't work: Given that xkcd's target audience are -ostensibly- nerds, who are likely to be familiar with the idea of a space elevator (which has been, like, thrown around for years), as opposed to a hypothetical "giant space cannon that shoots people to mars". The latter would require Randall to first explain ("Hey, look, suppose there was this cannon, right?") whereas in this case he only has to begin talking about the space elevator for you to understand the concept.

    Also, since when is it not allowed to joke about hypothetical situations?

    As you may surmise, I was quite amused by the elevator comic (That's a good way to describe xkcd: Elevator comic! Hah!). Unfortunately, the new one is funny but only because it's hilarious that someone would seriously think this "joke" is in any way original or entertaining.

    Seriously, fuck you Randall. Hang up is just too horrible for words. Half the time, people don't tolerate that kind of idiocy in the person they're head over heels in love with. Which, ironically, neither do our protagonists.

  31. Sam F - except you've neglected consideration of dynamic effects like the vibration of the ribbon, wind loads, the variation in weight and vibration of the "climber", and a whole host of things that make the system a whole lot more complex than the extra-atmospheric orbit of satellites.

    The foundation would need to be designed to withstand extraordinary uplift and lateral forces, and the cable would need to withstand large tensile forces, even at the bottom.

  32. can you imagine taking that elevator? it has to travel like five million storeys it'd take so freaking long. and you can bet there's piped-in muzak.

    black hat guy's character is being derailed something awful too.

    he's gone from being ingeniously and inventively nasty to just being a prick who's got access to a tool-box.
    seriously, when your plot seems like something GOB Bluth would come up with?

    and why is he doing this? there doesn't seem to be anything deliciously nasty about destroying an invention that so many have worked so hard on. he's just being a jerk.
    there's no purpose behind it, it's on the level of teenaged hoodlums vandalising shit for teh lulz.

  33. GOB came to mind because of that whole ribbon cutting solid as a rock storyline.

  34. It's a reference to sci-fi author Arthur C. Clarke, a writer that many new-age nerds still love. Mystery solved; Clarke himself said it would be 'finished once people stop finding it funny.'


  35. @uncivlengr: You're _way_ overthinking this. You don't need to consider all the factors involved in actually designing a space elevator and analyzing behavior if torn/cut. You just need to poke the _simplest_ hole in the moronic notion that it'll sit there, and for that you can take your pick of two:

    * Because it must be in crazy-ass tension to support its own weight (of course, everyone knows this; that's why we've not built one, right?) which means it's stretched like a tow-strap pulling a Ford out of the mud with a Chevy. When it breaks, it goes flying. (This analogy resonates with the kind of rednecks who think it'll float.)

    * Because if it's to be able to lift a useful load to orbit (even assuming it was made of massless rigid cable) it has to be pulling upward with at least its cargo capacity. Hence, no anchor=pulling the difference between the current load and maximum capacity. (Sorry, no car analogy here -- now I feel dumb.)

    Don't mess with the aerodynamic, vibrational, and orbital behavior of an extended hyperstructure. Anyone with a brain trained well enough to _comprehend_ those issues when you mention them will have already realized the two "easy" arguments.

    Or you could go directly for Sam's argument, but that only proves his argument is bad, not _necessarily_ the conclusion.

    Example: No, if you tie a bloody rope on your geostat it will *fall* *down* because the rope being below geosynchronous radius (and rotating 1/day) will have a net inward force from gravity. Since ropes are untenable in compression, it'll fall down whether you cut it or not. With any luck it lands on your head and makes you STFU.

  36. In regard to the second point, I did mention the variation in weight of the climber.

    The first point however, isn't a valid analogy. In the car towing analogy, the tension on each end of the rope is more or less equal, because it's attached between two vehicles at the same elevation.

    In the case of the space elevator, and in the ideal situation assumed by the aforementioned people, the upward 'force' of the satellite is equal to the weight of the cable/climber itself. At the base of the cable, therefore, there's no tension at all. The tension isn't constant along the length of the cable because the amount of cable being suspended below any given point isn't constant.

    The point I was making is that you would never want to design it to be in this perfectly balanced, "ideal" state even if you could, because if it is, and something varies such that the force upward is something less than the weight suspended below, what you have is a *falling* satellite.

    The other point of highlighting these other factors is to address the other erroneous belief (demonstrated nicely in Sam F's post), which is that the system is equivalent to a typical satelitte, but happens to have a rope tying it to the ground. By attaching it to the ground, it becomes less about satellite physics and more like structural engineering.

  37. Actually, I've heard about a space elevator quite recently. I suppose that means we travel different circles.

    Though, I too didn't realize that this was a poem.

  38. The space elevator won't involve ANY satellites or anything like them, at geosynch or higher or lower; none of it is in orbit.

    The SE will be held up by the big freaking counterweight at the far end being slung around by the Earth's rotation. Think of whirling a rock around your head on a string, or a slingshot (not the Y-shaped kind) or a track-and-field hammer throw. Much slower, but much longer.

    As uncivlengr said, it has to be pulling up against its anchor with a force of more than the weight of the climber that will carry stuff up. With the climber already on the cable, as shown, the strain below it could be small, but probably will be well above zero.

    By some accounts, we're actually pretty close to having a carbon nanotube cable that's sufficiently strong. Months or years, not decades.

    I myself liked the elevator doors and up/down buttons.

  39. Two things.

    1) Randall actually addressed the "hole-punched flag" issue in the alternate text.

    2) The joke was that if something like a "space elevator" was created (someone) like a normal elevator, having a pole through the middle guiding it up... the small diameter of the pole vs the weight and height would make it brittle as hell.

  40. it almost seems like he accidentally made the flag hole-punched in the elevator, then wrote the alt-text to hide his mistake