Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Comic 792: Blog Post Reuse

the redundancy is INTENTIONAL
[Alt: It'll be hilarious the first few times this happens.]

If you're new around here, you may not yet be acquainted with a little concept we like to talk about, which, while it goes by various names, is generally called "Randall Munroe's Illustrated Picto-Blog." It's not a blog that exists; rather, it's a blog that we speak about theoretically. We want it to exist. Ideally, it would replace xkcd as Randall Munroe's major creative output to the world (using the word "creative" in only its most literal sense). It would sometimes be funny, sometimes not. The goal would not be to be funny; the goal would be to be interesting. If an idea or story were interesting as well as funny, so much the better. If an idea benefited from a small drawing, or even a large one, that's fine too. But if it was not funny and entirely text based - which is to say, if it were like the worst of the xkcds now - that would also be ok. Most important, it would not have a regular update schedule, allowing Mr. Munroe to post only when hehttp://www.blogger.com/home felt an idea was worth sharing.

In any case, I've been over this all many times before. And what I've said before applies very much to this strip as well. It's an interesting idea (I don't think it's as common or widespread as some people have suggested, I'd be curious if they had some links) but the way Mr. Hat plays it is almost deliberately unfunny. Seriously, look again at the end of Mr. Hat's conversation: He's saying, "I had a cool idea but I have nothing I can do with it. So I don't know what to do."

It's true that that isn't really the punchline, but I guess I was still hoping for more from Mr. Hat. Even if he isn't as good as he used to be, "just sighing and giving up" hardly seems to be in character (though he's still more in character than Mr. Beret).

As to the actual punchline ("google is also not evil") I first found it extremely similar to this classic Onion article, then thought all about the various evil things Google has already done (think: China, Verizon Net Neutrality deal, that crazy flying colored balls homepage last week). I know that a few years ago Google was the darling of the computer nerd world, but can't we agree that they've made some decisions - inevitable, some could say, given their rate of growth - that show they aren't the perfect angels we once thought? To portray them as they are portrayed in the final two panels of this comic strikes me as hugely naive.

Oh, and count me in the camp that says that the "March 1997" reference is either trolling, noodle-incidenting, or both.


  1. first!

    i'd say if anything that the best subversion is that we expect mr hat to do have something sinister but that he just hasn't thought this through

    it's still kinda weak though, especially when the main punch seems to be 'it's the same problem google has'


  2. heaven's gate was in march 1997

  3. a useless thing I just discovered:
    you know how the title of the comics usually gives away the joke, thereby ruining it (more than it already was)?

    the mobile version of the comic puts the title at the bottom! it is here: http://m.xkcd.com/

    this might marginally improve a handful of comics

  4. Carl you're crazy Google's flying balls logo is awesome.

  5. Wait, Google's evil because... 'China'? 啥意思?

  6. A computer engineer who's naive about Google? Unheard of.

    Maybe Randall was too busy baking them cakes shaped like the internet to read about their debatable transgressions

  7. I don't understand the March 1997 thing. What is the reference? What is the trolling? Is the trolling that it's not a reference to anything? I tried googling "noodle-incidenting" but the first link turned out to be this very blog...

  8. March 1997 was when the Heaven's Gate people committed suicide.

    The idea of a noodle incident (coined by Calvin & Hobbes) is a story that the readers/viewers never find the details of, like the Noodle Incident that Calvin claims to be innocent of.


    Carl I think you are getting through to him!

  10. Dude, whenever people talk about password security (such as in the advice given on banking websites) they frequently mention keeping your good passwords exclusive to important sites and using shitty passwords for trivial sites. That's not just for fun, it's because people running trivial sites could opt to procure the password you use. It's just obvious, and people who don't think it's obvious might do well to go and change some of their passwords.

  11. I think the new comic, which is making fun of physics guys, is still about how physics guys are awesome. Maybe he means that they assume they've figured it out, but the way it's written it seems like Physics Guy has, actually, figured out everything Liberal Arts Guy hasn't.

  12. pretty sure it's about how they assume they've figured it out, on account of how "oh, model it as (simple model)" is never a very good solution to liberal arts problems--but physics people definitely assume that they intuitively grasp everything they encounter, ever.

  13. sounds like crandarl is trying to throw us off the track with this "humility"

  14. Yeah, holy shit, is Randall showing self-awareness? It kinda looks like he is! The alt-text is a more-or-less different joke than the comic, and still decent. It's observational humor that's not incredibly overdone and still somewhat accurate. It relies on understanding people and their reactions and their emotions, not just static objects and cultural artifacts. It's kind of clever! This is, like, 200s-level quality. I'm sure in a few hours I'll loathe it, or convince myself that Randall has no self-awareness whatsoever, but right now I'm pretty enthusiastic.

  15. 793 is good, but the title+panel is the joke; the caption counts as post-punchline for me, and the shot at liberal arts majors seems completely unnecessary.

  16. I feel pretty good about 793. Even though it could be construed to be "Not only are physicists better at everything else, they're also better at being obnoxious!"

    Taking out the caption would improve it a lot, but regardless, this is definitely better than the last few weeks, months, or even years.

  17. Okay physicist here who had a liberal arts roommate all through college. We got along great. Any elitism I had in my personality I pretty much got rid of by the time I turned 18 and developed my social skills past that of a high school student.

    I also have great respect for/interest in pop culture studies and gender women studies.

    It's just as annoying to read over and over that all Physicists are elitists as it is to ENCOUNTER an elitist physicist.

    I mean I get it when you rag on Randall because, duh, he's being a dick. But let's not emulate him, kay? I know I don't intuitively grasp everything around me (writing an essay for an English class is for example a skill I never was able to master. Also I took an acting class and that was a train wreck.)

  18. people like this new one? it felt very bland to me.

    course people also like tofu.

  19. Today's XKCD reminds me of an old joke - but unlike many such instances, doesn't rip off the joke directly.

    Milk production at a dairy farm was low so the farmer wrote to the local university, asking help from academia. A multidisciplinary team of professors was assembled, headed by a theoretical physicist, and two weeks of intensive on-site investigation took place. The scholars then returned to the university, notebooks crammed with data, where the task of writing the report was left to the team leader. Shortly thereafter the farmer received the write-up, and opened it to read on the first line: "Consider a spherical cow in vacuum. . ."

  20. what are gender women?

    I will make you a deal: I will stop making fun of physics people for being elitist assholes if you convince the ones who are elitist assholes to stop being elitist assholes.

    see, there's no widespread academic discrimination against physics people. you'll have to forgive me for not being sympathetic to your plight about being annoyed when people complain that a discipline which is veritably fetid with assholey elitism is an elitist discipline, mostly because that's kind of the point. if you're annoyed by it, you're part of the problem.

    it's like a white person saying "it's just as annoying to hear people complaining about how white people are racist as it is to actually meet a white racist." not to the same degree, obviously, but in character it's identical: it's the member of a dominant social group (and if you really think that math/science/physics/compsci don't have considerably more prestige than other academic disciplines, both within academia and without, you're fucking blind) complaining that it's hurtful to assume that members of said dominant social group abuse that privilege.

    which is to say: I'm sure you're a very nice person, but it helps if you stop apologizing for all of your asshole buddies.

  21. SORRY one more thing then I'm done bitching:

    It seems like this is more an engineers vs. physicist than a liberal arts vs. physicist comic.

    Doesn't it appear that the guy fuming is an engineer who while "annoyed by liberal arts majors" is MORE annoyed by the obnoxious physics majors? He's got some kind of math on the board (and then math is mentioned again in the mouse over).

    This doesn't really seem like humility of Randall's part, because I believe Randall identifies more closely has being an engineer than a physicist (despite his undergraduate degree).

    So I think this is more "my field is smarter than liberal arts, but less annoying than physics."

    So. Even worse that you would interpret this as somehow redeeming all the jabs he's made at other fields because now he's "poking fun at himself." That's clearly NOT what's going on. He's just dissing another field of academia based on broad stereotypes.

    Not only is viewing the world as "arts vs. science" wrong, it seems to have drawn incorrect conclusions about this comment.

  22. sorry Gender Women Studies is the name of the department and major at my undergraduate school. I thought it was clear, but it's more broadly seen as Women's studies? The reason for the name is that Women's studies examines the role gender identification plays in everyone's life, so just calling it women's studies is kind of a misnomer.

  23. nobody thinks that this is somehow redeeming all the jabs he's made. if he's poking fun at himself, that's a positive humorous step that doesn't magically invalidate all his previous steps. you goddamn nutter.

    and it is not AT ALL "clear" that this is an engineering/physics turf war--you're extrapolating that from sketchy, dubious details about Randall's personal life and tiny incidental details, ignoring stuff like explicit attribution in the caption. the fact that you have to mount a big defense proves that it's not "clear".

    you goddamn nutter.

  24. The point I was trying to make is that he's not poking fun at himself, he's just doing what he always does. Which isn't redeeming, or a change in his humorous direction, or anything. The only reason people see it this way is because they're analyzing it in a framework of "art vs. science." But you're right, maybe I went too far with the word "clear" as the evidence is debatable.

  25. And I meant to use the explicit attribution in the caption when I quoted "annoyed by liberal arts majors."

    Whoever the speaker is in the caption (I assume the guy writing on the chalkboard, but maybe it's just some random narrator) it appears he's both annoyed by liberal arts AND physics majors, meaning he's a member of neither group.

    So I don't think there's any real evidence here that the speaker is a liberal arts person dissing the sciences. I think it seems the person isn't a liberal arts person and isn't a physicist. The math details might mean that it's still a math-related field, but not physics.

    Maybe not clear, but I stand by it. I still don't really see it as Randall showing humility but just him jabbing another filed of academia.

  26. i suppose there's two ways of reading the liberal arts namedrop in the caption.

    one is that the explicit attribution there means that this is, in fact, a comic about a physicist condescending to (say) a sociologist. in this case, the text is explicitly endorsing a "[liberal] art vs. science" framework, randall is poking fun at himself (since seriously he pulls that "i have taken a cursory glance at the field, i now know enough to mock its practitioners for being stupid nonscientific feebs), this is progress.

    there's actually a couple levels of self-deprecation. the liberal arts dude by the whiteboard is admitting that liberal arts people can be obnoxious (is that so fucking impossible to believe?); randall the hard sciences dude is admitting that people like him are even worse.

    or, alternately, there are two characters in the comic and a third character The Narrator. we don't have any particularly compelling reason to believe that either of the characters is the narrator, unless you subscribe to some weird axiom of "we should interpret any comic as possessing the fewest number of characters necessary to make literal sense."

    it's also stupid of you to think "math details automatically implies non-liberal-arts field". but of course you're an elitist physicist who has appropriated mathematics for the REAL sciences and can't imagine those squishy liberal arts weenies using it for anything.

    the other way of looking at it is that this comic is REALLY just an intra-hard-science turf war between engineers and physics, and the "liberal arts" comment is just a non sequitur insult thrown in there because randall is a condescending prick. this is not progress, nor is it particularly funny.

    for once, i'm extending randall the benefit of the doubt. i do not think that "randall totally has a hard science background" and "the diagram has squiggles" are particularly compelling evidence for the "engineering vs. physics" framework.

  27. Stop giving Randall so much credit. The guy being aggravated is an engineer. He says that, while liberal arts majors ARE annoying (and there are no liberal arts majors in the comic,) physicists are even worse (like the one speaking in the comic.)

    That's what it is. I guarantee it.

  28. Okay now, I absolutely wasn't assuming that sociologists don't use math. It's just that we have very few hard details, and one of those details is the word MATH. That doesn't exactly lead one to assume "liberal arts." And because I made that jump (just like anyone else did) I'm an elitist? Come on now.

    I don't know much about liberal arts, but I assume math is used for things like statistical analysis? Seeing how concrete the data is?

    I assume it's not central to the interesting ideas of your paper (I guess unless it's education in math or something, in which case you wouldn't need to do a lot of math or "need help with the math.")

    Anyways I'm done with this because now we're just squabbling and you're kind of insulting. There are two readings of this, but I think my reading has more evidence, the mouse over being pretty much something you would never say to a liberal arts major. I'm out.

  29. You assume a lot for someone who resents the impression of her discipline as being elitist and condescending know-it-alls.

    And I'm "kind of" insulting? How stupid are you?

  30. I wouldn't call this humility on Randall's part- I might have, if not for the shot at liberal arts majors in the caption. What was the point of saying "liberal arts majors may be annoying"? It had nothing to do with the rest of the comic. Even when he makes a comic that makes fun of physicists, he can't resists insulting the liberal arts.

    I have a degree in economics, and every single time Randall makes fun of the liberal arts, I want to go right over to his house and punch him directly in the face.

  31. I'm going to have to disagree on 792, since I thought it was the funniest xkcd in a long while. There's a distinction between "subverting expectations", which is the key element of comedy, and "acting out of character", which is sloppy writing. I think this comic is the former but not the latter.

    If Garfield shows up and says "I love Mondays and hate lasagna" that's just out-of-character and not funny (yes, I know, Garfield isn't funny anyway). But Hat Guy's problem here is perfectly understandable -- he loves pranks, but when presented with the greatest pranking platform the world has ever seen, he can't think of any possible prank worthy of it, and it paralyzed with indecision. A combination of overanalysis and ego has made him incapable of acting. That's unexpected, but it _is_ consistent with Hat Guy's character.

    Moreover, since Hat Guy represents Randall's id, we can pretty much understand the thought process which went into this comic: Randall had the idea that hat guy could steal all those passwords, but he couldn't think of a Hat-Guy-Worthy prank for him to pull off with them either, so the comic changed into bleak existentialism.

    Anyway in conclusion (a) I didn't think it was out-of-character and (b) if it had just been another "so I pulled off this crazy prank" comic it wouldn't have been as funny.

    The final few panels, set at google, seem more like an alt-text which grew too large to actually fit in an alt-text so he just tacked on a couple of panels. You'll notice the actual alt-text is crap.

  32. I have to give 793 credit because I had that exact conversation with a mechanical engineer yesterday. It's really not that obnoxious, though. Newbies just want to learn.

  33. I like 793. It's actually true and not just a Hollywood Stereotype like most of his characters. Only problem is - the joke's been done to death. By Dilbert alone. Only Dilbert always did the "Engineers think they can do anything easily" with more than just observational humour.

    Also, the Liberal Arts insult is completely uncalled for and is just another case of pure pandering.

  34. I'm pretty sure, if you sort of bend the elements of the comic into a narrative pretzel, it becomes plainly obvious that the character at the writeboard is actually a History major.

    With a minor in Jewish Studies.

    Maybe it's not clear, but I stand by it. Hurp derp.

  35. The only thing I noticed about todays comic is that it was exactly the same height as the display pictures window in msn on my computer...

    That's the most interesting bit about it :P.

  36. See! Now Randall's made fun of both non-physicists and physicists alike. He must therefore be completely unbiased and also right about everything.

    At least, that's what the 24/7 news channels taught me. As long as you give "both sides" of an argument equal time on your show you are a Very Serious Person who is completely unbiased.

  37. Yeah, this is Randy's way of getting plausible deniability. "You see?," he'll say, "I make fun of physicists too. So if I talk smack about your major, it's all in good fun."

    Except he's still attacking the "liberal-arts," and it's a weaksauce insult vs. physicists. It boils down to: "In this specific circumstance, physicists are annoying." As opposed to liberal arts majors, who are simply stupid and annoying in general.

    You'd think that Randall could think of some actual knocks on physics majors. After all, he is a physics major who can't draw, can't properly format the frames of a comic, can't set up a joke, can't proofread his work, and can't weigh in on a political event without saying something stupid. A bit more liberal arts education would have done Randy good.

  38. Whenever a physicist / economist decides to take this approach to the humanities IRL it always has hilarious results.

    capcha: muchemen - an italian gay orgy?

  39. Following the tradition, I'm commenting on this comic because I have not read the newest one, and do not wish to do so. Let's make this happen!

    So, first thing that calls my attention is that he has two panels just floating at the end there. I see no reason why Randall couldn't stretch this panels on the two last rows so they fit the width of the comic.

    In fact, it seems Randall drew the last two panels as a full comic, but then he realized he had two full days ahead of him, so he decided to make a setup.

    And so we have... Black Hat Man being an asshole. But not so much. You see, he points out this scheme to get passwords(btw, Carl, it's common enough for any "get more followers" scam to work, though I'm not sure about the "try to use password on other services" part), and I'll give him credit, it's clever. But then he fails to come up with any use for it and then mentions a date that might or not be related to the Heaven's Gate mass suicide. It might as well be a Noodle Incident, and a very horribly mangled one at that.

    And that's lame! BHM, the only character in XKCD that's barely consistent, fails at doing what he does best: being evil. I mean, it's not like he could use those identities to throw the whole country(maybe the whole world) in paranoia by posting cryptic messages about a non-existent world-wide terrorist movement that's planning to target the Seven Wonders of the World, causing innocent people to be framed for conspiracy and probably tortured for information they don't have! And that's just an idea I got from the top of my head here! So, in the end, Black Hat Man has all this power to do evil but he doesn't have any interest... like Google?

    ...oh, crap. It was all a setup, after all. And the punchline is... so bland. "Aw, look, Google is so cute trying to be evil, but they can't come up with nothing evil because, you see, they aren't evil! D'awww..." It reminds me of that Mr. Rogers "comic".

    I think this comic promised a lot, but it fell flat on its butt and then made a backflip... landing on its butt again. And that layout still bugs me.

    Oh, and the alt. What's "this" Randall? Google turning evil? It isn't hilarious even this time! Someone getting thousands of identities by phishing people with bogus services? That wouldn't be hilarious, it'd be sad, at most!

    So, there you have. Bad comic. What a surprise!

    Gero arte


  40. Rachel@10:57 (and everybody else). What did Randall major in anyway? Like most of us, I'd assumed it was physics. But I just discovered, CNU DOESN'T OFFER A PHYSICS DEGREE!!!!! Scandalous (for Randall, not CNU)!!! It could have been Computer Foundations: Applied Physics. Applied physics sounds suspiciously...applied (and computers are pretty much applied mathematics). Not pure, noble science.

    The whole phrase "liberal arts majors" doesn't have much meaning to me. I went to a liberal arts college and got a BA in a science. CNU is a liberal arts university. Science is part of the liberal arts as far as I'm concerned, although I realize it's different for larger universities that have liberal arts colleges and science colleges (though I have a high school friend who got a BS in English from a large university).

    Maybe Randall has the classical meaning of liberal arts in mind. Here's how I think they would map to modern majors:
    Logic=Philosophy (or perhaps Math)

    Randall's beloved physics and math were originally considered liberal arts. Communications is widely seen as a major that's even more squishy then the typical "liberal arts". Music is now a fine, rather than liberal art. Philosophy is probably the epitome of a stereotypically "useless liberal arts degree."

    A stereotypical liberal arts major (say history or English) doesn't "predict the behavior of complicated systems" or "model it as a simple object". Not that there's anything wrong with that. It's only the more sciencey liberal arts (econ, linguistics, maybe anthro and soc) and engineering that do so.

  41. Regarding 792, this is pretty much the worst inciter of Wikipedia vandalism I've seen aside from Malamanteau. There have been 35 edits to the 1997 Wikipedia article since September 13 (i.e., about 17 additions of xkcd and subsequent removals).

    Randall did this on purpose. It's pretty clear if he attempts to create a noodle incident, people are going to try and look it up on Wikipedia and engage in vandalism. I wanted to give him the benefit of a doubt. From 446, it appears he's opposed to adding garbage to Wikipedia. Then today, I went through the xkcd archives and Wikipedia looking for incidences of vandalism that could be linked to recent xkcds. I had a vague memory of a strip that cited a specific date and which led to some vandalism noted here. It turns out that strip was 738, and there was only 1 incident of vandalism (at least in the time immediately after 738 was published). Date articles (e.g., 1997 or October 8) are great targets for vandalism. They're inherently just lists of facts which makes adding bogus ones easy; I doubt a casual vandal would create an In Popular Culture section in article that doesn't have one. Specific day articles already seem to be a magnet for random people to add their own birth. Sadly for Randall, 738 didn't incite as much vandalism as he'd hoped, so he followed it up with Malamanteau, which was a smashing success.

  42. Maybe it's naive, but I just find it impossible to hate google or think that they have any sinister intentions. There was the thing with China, and I don't know much about this net neutrality deal but I hear that's bad... but there are just so many REALLY COOL THINGS that they do, it makes it very difficult to be suspicious of them.

  43. you know who else did a lot of cool things

    go on guess

  44. more or less ThePirateKing, I side with you. Maybe someday Google will turn to the darkside and use their power for evil - if that happens, they will have billions of dollars and the most powerful library of information mankind has ever seen at their finger tips, what can we do about it? Glare at www.google.com suspiciously waiting for their next move? Instead, let's just embrace the fact that we are moving forward into a dangerous and scary and beautiful future and accept that their are forces out of our control that we can either live in paranoid futile fear of or just take things as they come.

  45. dear anon 10:38,




  46. I really, genuinely thought at first glance that Randall was posting the formula for an XKCD comic. I was floored. There's no way he would make fun of how generic his own science-themed comics could be, would he?

    Of course, I was wrong.

  47. Nein! Nein! Oh! Haha. Different other chap.


  48. HILTER

    I don't know much about google- but what I doi rember them doing is basically buying and shutting down etherpad so they could push google wave.
    then decided to scrap google wave.
    This seems like a big "fuck you " to the little guy.

    ANYWAY newest comic I have a few things to say

    It should be captioned as "XKCD, the penitent" for one.

    And second, it STILL comes across as insulting (liberal arts majors may be annoying- that's taken as a fucking given in this comic).

    Rob, I agree with everything you say. but
    "I'll stop calling all black people theiving niggers if you convince the theiving niggers to stop being theiving niggers"
    That's not really me quoting you with any real point- I just have this thing I do where I replace nouns in sentances with the phrase "theiving niggers" and that amused me.

    I should stop that because it's purile and unfunny.


    Today's XKCD has a kernel of a joke, but it's been dilberte'd before, and it's a fairly old joke to make about science/engineering types, and it's not really done too well.

    ALTERNATE- "I need to make LASAGNE how do I make LASAGNE it sounds complicated
    what if I start off by approximating it as MEAT and CHEESE and then add bits as I go on?
    -end result is a block of cheddar wrapped in bacon covered in fairy lights
    this did not go well"

    I think that's funnier because it ends badly for the physicist, rather than just being annoying.
    Is it funnier? I can't tell. I crave appraisal from the internet.

    ANYAWY- as a physics student there's a billion and one things you can do to make fun of us, and SMBC does some of them well (awful social skills, telling terrible science jokes, etc)

    Like today a friend told me how he pretended to be from NASA to pick up a chick, didn't work because of being a social retard and thinking about the implications of his made-up research project in a real environment instead of sexy times.


    anyway- when I read this I felt a little twinge of (im' OFFENDED) but really, that's for two reasons, firstly, I absolutely loathe being associated with Randall and Science Elitists (who do exist- I'd have to be blind not to see; I try to console myself that most professors I've met seem fairly grounded and most dickheads seem to be in first or second year- so I *hope* it falls off)

    And also, because physics student's just don't get made fun of very often. It should happen more, and I should be offended more, just as long as it's funny.

    I guess that's what I wanted to say?

  49. "I wouldn't call this humility on Randall's part- I might have, if not for the shot at liberal arts majors in the caption. What was the point of saying "liberal arts majors may be annoying"? It had nothing to do with the rest of the comic. Even when he makes a comic that makes fun of physicists, he can't resists insulting the liberal arts."

    I, uh, everything I had to say has been said by Chaos. I feel so pointless and alone.

  50. UndercoverCuddlefishSeptember 15, 2010 at 1:27 PM

    oh what i would not give for some self awareness in my xkcd

  51. @Bizmit

    He was trying to make this mild crack at physicists more palatable to the mass of physics majors and physics major wannabes who make up a core block of his readership.

  52. Also he could just be referring to some things he's previously said about liberal arts majors?

    Really guys it's just plain misanthropic to try to force more hate for Randall than he's already earned.

  53. omg Rob just got PWNED by drunken potatoes

  54. So guys serious-type question here. Have you ever woken up in the night and your ass was hurting? Like, hurting bad enough that you had to get up and take some Tylenol or something before you could get back to sleep? Is this a serious concern? Should I be worried?

  55. UndercoverCuddlefishSeptember 15, 2010 at 4:47 PM

    @scottmctony it is not "misanthropic"

    randall does not count as a real person

  56. UndercoverCuddlefishSeptember 15, 2010 at 4:56 PM

    @anon3:39 try not to let your boyfriend slip roofies into your drink

  57. While on the topic of Hitler, you guys should all check out Hipster Hitler, which is a new and funny webcomic about you know who.

  58. Timofei: Thank you so much. I reich it already.

  59. I liked the new comic, but I have to say that I also think it's pretty clear that the annoyed guy is not a liberal arts major, or at least not exclusively.

    I think part of what makes this comic funny (or, if you don't like it: what's supposed to be funny about it) is the genericness of the physicists lines. He applies them to any field of science he doesn't know anything about.
    Saying that the field of the annoyed guy is liberal arts kind of kills this part of the joke.
    Another thing is that the joke works better if the annoyed guy is some sort of "hard scientist", probably some form of applied physics, just because the physicist then has a direct reason to feel superior with his ways ("it's all just applied physics, and you're doing it way too complicated").

    The text beneath the comic is typical post-punchline dialog, if you ask me. It's not necessary, and it doesn't add anything to the joke.
    However, I can see why he's using "liberal arts majors" in the text; he's trying to mention a group that's widely considered to be annoying (especially among his clientele) only to say that physicists can be worse than them. As if he made a joke about being overly punctual and then added beneath it "Germans can be overly punctual, but [the people mentioned in this comic] are even worse!" (Cause, you know, that's a stereotype of Germans.)

  60. Hitler was punctual.

  61. Actually Hitler was notoriously unreliable and incompetent. In fact he deliberately made the government less efficient so that it'd be harder for anyone to plan a conspiracy against him. Trufax.

  62. @David
    Um, "liberal arts majors" aren't widely considered to be annoying. You know why? Because nobody know what a "liberal arts major" is. By classical definitions, a physicist is one. Colloquially it's used in a 100 different ways, the only commonality being that it includes the humanities (Do social sciences count? How about "soft" empirical sciences like anthro?).

    And for the sake of argument, let's take an obvious liberal arts major, like literature. Has anyone in there entire lives thought that lit majors tended to be more annoying than chemists or astronomers? I certainly haven't (I'm not a lit major, btw).

    But the exact definition isn't important to Randy, because he feels that his education is better than almost any degree, and blankets them as annoying.

  63. I did wonder what liberal arts meant-
    So is 'liberal arts' just some kind of straw man ranDull uses to avoid ragging on any particular degree?

    except anthro


  64. @11:02

    It's got more than a few definitions. To Randy, it seems to be code for majors other than CS/chem/physics/math/engineering. And to major in anything else (or, god forbid, not have a university degree)is proof that you simply aren't as capable of those majors.

    And if someone tells you they studied something else because they have a passion for art or public service, or they can make more money elsewhere, they're lying. They just weren't smart enough to get an "applied physics" (whatever that entails) degree and sell T-shirts to high school kids looking for nerd cred.

  65. UndercoverCuddlefishSeptember 16, 2010 at 1:24 PM

    i always just assume that when randy says "liberal arts" he means that the degree is a bachelor of arts degree rather than bachelor of science

    then i realize that no matter what he means he is just an ignorant twenty something without enough knowledge or talent to actually work in the areas he expresses so much interest in (this is why he makes terrible webcomics for a living instead)

    i wonder if making bad webcomics is a liberal art

  66. "Liberal arts major" is an anachronism that should've gone out with "co-ed". "Liberal arts college" is still relevant, but Randall went to one of those. BA degrees in hard sciences aren't uncommon. The classical liberal arts include what are now considered hard sciences. Engineering/applied physics is certainly not a liberal art in any sense, but is open for ridicule by "real scientists".

    The go to majors for ridicule now are probably Communications, Exercise Science, and Gender/Ethnic Studies (which is especially ridiculed by conservatives). Business majors specialize in bullshit, but don't get as much ridicule as I would like.

  67. "In the 5th century AD, Martianus Capella defined the seven Liberal Arts as: grammar, dialectic, rhetoric, geometry, arithmetic, astronomy, and music" -- Wikipedia

    Oddly enough, any sort of art I'd expect to find on that definition isn't here. Huh.

    So, anyway... David, two things:

    - "However, I can see why he's using "liberal arts majors" in the text; he's trying to mention a group that's widely considered to be annoying"

    Hello? Beyond Randall's "clientele", who else considers liberal arts majors inherently annoying? How "wide" can that group be considered? Please follow me here: Randall created a straw man of a liberal arts major. Real liberal arts majors aren't "widely" considered annoying, except maybe by freshmen hard science majors(I've been there!).

    - "The text beneath the comic is typical post-punchline dialog, if you ask me. It's not necessary, and it doesn't add anything to the joke."

    But David, how are we going to know that person is a physicist? Remember, we're talking aobut Randall "I can't make discernible characters to save my life" Munroe. With him, either you get a hat, a label or a caption. Also, the punchline IS in the caption: physicists are annoying, because even when talking about a field they have no idea about, they are smug. Haw haw! It's bad, but that is the punchline. I don't know what you thought was the punchline there.

    Da boch chi


  68. @Anon 8:35
    From Wikipedia:
    "The term liberal arts denotes a curriculum that imparts general knowledge and develops the student’s rational thought and intellectual capabilities, unlike the professional, vocational and technical curricula emphasizing specialization."

    It's not really important which studies are in there exactly; what's important is that even this little definition already sounds arrogant as fuck. "I'm a liberal arts major - my skills at rational thought, my intellectual capabilities and/or my general knowledge are superior to yours!"

    Including physics in the liberal arts doesn't change a thing. The text would then simply say "Generally speaking, liberal arts people can be annoying. Nothing, however, beats that group of liberal arts people called physicists."

  69. Mole:

    1. Who else but Randall's clientele needs to find liberal arts majors annoying for the joke to succeed among his clientele?
    2. I have plenty of reasons to find literature and philosophy students very annoying, just like any field of study where you're allowed to call yourself an intellectual.
    3. It is mentioned in the title of the comic that he's a physicist.
    4. Well, there is no real punchline, but the funny bit about the comic is the physicist's exaggerated speech with the spaces in it. Anything after that which doesn't make it even funnier is, according to Carl's defintion, post-punchline dialog. Sorry.

  70. @David (I'm 8:35)
    I know somebody put a definition on Wikipedia. It doesn't change the fact that in modern English the phrase "liberal arts" means different things to different people.

    Randall, for example, has a cute disclaimer on his webcomic that says the "advanced" (that's a laugh) mathematics you might encounter there are "inappropriate for liberal arts majors." But the Wikipedia definition you posted continues to say:

    "The contemporary liberal arts comprise studying literature, languages, philosophy, history, mathematics, and science."

    So do you think that Randy doesn't believe mathematicians and scientists can understand his high school math jokes? Of course not. To him, and to others, liberal arts basically implies that a major isn't math, science, or an applied math/science.

    He isn't saying "people with university degrees other than nursing/accounting/whatever" are annoying. He isn't saying that they're more or less obnoxious than people who studied a vocation-based subject or who went to trade school. He's talking about history/English/French/economics/political science/whatever majors. And there is no stereotype that this group is more or less annoying than physicists, roofers, or anybody else.

    This is just one more shot at people who didn't study what Randy did, not echoing some "widely held belief" in the public consciousness.

  71. David:

    1. Ideally, no one. But you said "widely considered to be annoying". I'm not talking about the joke, I'm talking about what you said. My point: liberal arts majors aren't widely considered annoying, except among Randall's clientele.

    2. How that contributes to the point you're making, I fail to realize. You're entitled to have your opinion, but that doesn't make it a fact. Besides, pretty much any field of study you're allowed to call yourself an intellectual, no?

    3. It's mentioned someone is a physicist. Could be the other guy, look at that board: it's full of diagrams and equations. Or maybe someone is mentioning a physicist. Another point in case: the title shouldn't be needed to understand the comic, it should at most encapsulate the comic so one can find it later in the archives. Thus, the caption is still necessary.

    4. First, I'll say again there is a punchline. Second: you said the caption is post-punchline dialogue. PPD requires a punchline by definition. So, if there isn't a real punchline, no real PPD.

    Also, the caption is fundamental for the reader to realize what the heck is going on. Without the caption, can you tell that templated speech is a mocking of a physicist talking to someone about a field he's not familiar with? If yes, how? What else in the comic implies that conclusion?

    Hasta luego


  72. UndercoverCuddlefishSeptember 16, 2010 at 4:14 PM

    @everybody stop saying clientele


  73. UC, you're such a lovely person I don't know if I should punch you or choke you to death.

    Au revoir


  74. Anon 8:35/3:58 (well done):
    Actually, the way Randall is using the term it seems as if "Liberal Arts" was in fact a specific combination of courses you can take at some schools. I don't know, but it seems possible, and would go well with the image we have of Randall - they'd study physics and mathematics, but not exclusively, ergo they're not real scientists etc.
    That seems like the most logical solution for all this, because I have to agree that, at least in his disclaimer, his usage of the term would be very strange otherwise.


    1) I said "widely considered to be annoying (especially among his clientele)".
    But more importantly, I was talking about what he was aiming for (deductable by the "trying to mention a group that's" right in front of it), not if he actually succeeded in picking a good example.

    2) He says Liberal Arts majors can be annoying, and I say that personally, I can agree with that, as long as people who major in Liberal Arts include smug people who'd brag about how intellectual they are, because that's something I find annoying. I'm not trying to sell you facts, I'm trying to say that as long as Randall's readers have a similar opinion like mine, that line about Liberal Arts majors works.
    (Although I still think that whole text isn't necessary.)

    3) The title says "Physicists". So actually, both of them could be physicists. That wouldn't ruin the joke, because there are different fields of physics. You *could* think that the left one is the physicist, but then the comic doesn't make a lot of sense. Also, the right guy's speech really is quite typical for physicists, so the people xkcd is catered to should be able to immediately recognize who the physicist mentioned in the title is.

    4) What you see as a punchline is just the explanation of the joke. "Physicists can be obnoxious and smug" is exactly what you get from the comic already, and I fail to see why you think it's necessary to explicitly write it down.
    Concerning the "no punchline, no PPD" thing: Like I said, I'm using Carl's definition of PPD, and he's often tagged comics as PPD where you didn't have a clear punchline (e.g. 786, 775). Now, I *could* say that the physicist's lines are a punchline, or maybe the "anger smoke" above the left guy is; but I just don't feel like this is a comic where the joke is presented as a punchline. The point is that the joke has been told, and the text isn't necessary (see above reasons), and we don't want a new category "post-joke dialog" and therefore I'm saying this is a case of PPD.

  75. Funnily enough, based on several definitions posted here "liberal arts" is pretty much what, before the mid-1800s or so, would be called "science".

  76. UndercoverCuddlefishSeptember 16, 2010 at 7:31 PM

    @david there are annoying people in every field and saying that students in any one area are more annoying than students in any other is just stupid

    i laugh at anybody that thinks there are more "smug people who brag about how intellectual they are" in the liberal arts than in any other category those people are literally fucking everywhere

    like i find you insufferable for example

  77. @UC
    Captain Obvious? I never said one area has more annoying students than others, where the hell do you get that from?
    Seriously, you guys act as if I said something completely ignorant and unreasonable, when I was simply explaining something about which there was an amount of confusion ("is the left guy a liberal arts major or why do they get mentioned in the text?").

    If your side lost an argument, you sometimes just have to accept that, especially when the other side repeatedly explained to you why it was stupid of you to start the argument in the first place.

  78. UndercoverCuddlefishSeptember 17, 2010 at 3:45 AM

    wait when did i have a side in an argument

    if you don't actually find liberal arts majors in particular to be more annoying than any other group of people then i am sure you will concede that the line is actually completely pointless

    but you said "that line...works" so you apparently think it is reasonable to judge an entire group by its most extreme examples

    oh okay i get where you are coming from here have a friendship bracelet we are going to get along so well

  79. David, your problem is that you're taking a simple premise ("simply explaining something about which there was an amount of confusion") and then making it complicated by adding your stupid personal opinions as if they're fact.

    "(especially for his clientele)" is a complementary, not a qualifier(if you said, instead, "widely considered to be annoying by his clientèle", I'd be fine). In the end, what you said is, effectively, that liberal arts majors are widely considered to be annoying. That they're considered annoying by Randall's readers is obvious. That they're widely(i.e., in general, not only by Randall's fandom) considered so, is obviously false. They're not more considered annoying than majors in general, I reckon.

    "as long as people who major in Liberal Arts include smug people who'd brag about how intellectual they are" So, as long as you can completely ignore what a liberal arts major is and apply your own definition to the phrase, then it's true. What's your last name, Humpty-Dumpty?

    Regarding the obviousness of the right one being a physicist because of his speech... I never met a physicist or heard an account of a physicist that talked like that. So you're probably hanging around the worst of them, those who talk in dialogue so stilted you might think they've never been around a human being in their life.

    I'll just leave you with your definition of PPD. Whatever.

    And now, to make the famous "turn back your line against yourself", when your side lost an argument, you sometimes just have to let it go, instead of repeating the same thing over and over again. You're not making your argument any more solid, buddy.



  80. "I can see why he's using 'liberal arts majors' in the text; he's trying to mention a group that's widely considered to be annoying (especially among his clientele) only to say that physicists can be worse than them."

    This is what I originally said. There is no personal opinion in it, it says: Randall's trying to do something. In this case, he's *trying to mention a group that's widely considered to be annoying*. He's trying.

    Then you come along and say "But nobody finds liberal arts majors annoying!"
    So I say "Well I do, at least based on what comes to my mind when I hear that term (and I don't really know if that's the correct meaning). As long as the target group thinks similar to me, the sentence works". And this is actually quite possible because everyone seems to think of the humanities at first, and the target group thinks those are smug (we're in agreement on this, I believe).

    There are no stupid personal opinions. There is nothing that is sold as a fact. And if I repeat my arguments, it's because you keep repeating yourself, saying I'm declaring personal opinions as facts.

    By the way, I think "I'll leave you to your definition of PPD" is an extremely weak reply, when we were mainly talking about whether the text is necessary or not and I was explaining to you that the text is basically repeating the joke of the comic.
    Just as weak as reducing the dialogue of the physicist to being "stilted" in order to make it sound as if that was the only thing I could possibly mean when I say that his speech is typical for a physicist. What's typical is the method he's using (make it simple, calculate that, then add some factors for the non-simplicity of the original problem), not his rhetorical skills.

  81. ScottMcSHUTTHEFUCKUTonySeptember 17, 2010 at 11:58 AM

    "1) I said "widely considered to be annoying (especially among his clientele)".
    But more importantly, I was talking about what he was aiming for (deductable by the "trying to mention a group that's" right in front of it), not if he actually succeeded in picking a good example."

    Did UC and Mole become illiterate when I wasn't looking?

  82. UndercoverCuddlefishSeptember 17, 2010 at 12:41 PM

    @david see the fun part is that everyone knows exactly what randall was trying to do and we have since moved past that

    my point is that what randall was trying to do was in fact classless pointless and immature

    it is pretty obvious that the line is there to appeal to his target audience but when is the last time anybody here had anything good to say about randys readership seriously aligning your opinions with theirs is just asking to be mocked old buddy old pal old chum

    @scott illiterate and unreasonable are completely different things and i promise that i have been unreasonable for a while now

  83. David, point, set and match. If you need me, I'm at the next post.



  84. psst...net neutrality takes an unregulated internet and makes it regulated. THAT'S evil. Agreeing to stop the stupid "hey let's get the government to tell people what to do!...for freedom" fetish was a good move.

    A pro-freedom and speech move.

    Not that Google did it for that reason...they like cash. But cash is ok!

  85. Heaven's Gate? Huh, I thought the joke was that Black Hat's a subgenius, but it looks like X-day was July 1998. I don't know, I liked it better when I thought it was a nerd in-joke rather than "Ha Ha, Black Hat kills people!".