Friday, January 29, 2010

Comic 695: In Bad Spirits

Spirited away?
Maybe NASA wouldn't have abandoned you on mars if you weren't such a whiny bitch.

Anyway, this is another of the "man+machine" comics, and to be fair, we haven't had one of those in a while. But that's still all it comes down to - what if the mars rover felt bad? HA HA, it would be just like a sad human. Cry, readers, cry! For you can feel sad for the rover.

But, to quote someone reading this comic over my shoulder, "you can't make me feel bad about leaving a rover on mars. I refuse to feel bad." Unfortunately, it looks like a lot of xkcd readers actually are that easy to manipulate, and are all sad about this robot having human feelings. Or again, there's this.

guys I know I have been super bad at keeping up with comments and e-mails, and I still haven't written that post about the ads I put on the site and the SPECIAL CONTEST which i am still figuring out, but hopefully next week I'll be able to catch up on that.

Also, guys, I was looking around the internet and I found a photo of Randall that I think explains a lot about his comic and style, anyway tell me what you think, it's here.

ok I just photoshopped that picture, and poorly at that. But still, i think it's a funny idea. has anyone here made that joke before?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Comic 694: Infected

Retro virass, more like
Alright, am I missing something? As far as I can tell, the only funny thing about this comic is the title, Retro Virus, which is at least a halfway decent pun. Other than that, it just seems like an excuse to remind people of stuff that was popular in 2003, for that whole "if I say something you remember, you'll think it's funny when it isn't" strategy that xkcd loves so much.

Anyway, the first rule of comedy is that the Onion already did it, and better, no matter what.


Apparently some washington post blog is having a little old vote on which webcomic is best. I myself know better than to care about the results of this highly unscientific and meaningless poll, but still, if you want to vote for one, you might as well. XKCD was winning but now it's in a very, very distant 4th, so that's not so terrible. Most of the comics were things I had never heard of. My own opinion is that PBF is the best on that list (with Kate Beaton / Hark a Vagrant being awesome in a different way) so I am ok with the standings now.


In other news, am I the only one who hadn't seen the pilot for The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret? If you liked Arrested Development, you should at least take a look, given that Will Arnett and David Cross are in it. I think it shows promise, and the last big scene is a really good example of what I mean when I say chaos is funny. Come up with a well engineered chaos scene and I will likely laugh heartily. Of course, it's hard to pull that off in a static format like xkcd, because nothing actually moving makes it harder to convey the energy you need, but still. um, think about it?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Comic 693: Suspension of Belief

Apparently, some children's fantasy novels are not completely accurate. I am as surprised as you; I merely figured I was not yet chosen to be a wizard or kill a dragon or save the kingdom or learn valuable life lessons and the true meaning of baseball from Old Man Shultz. Not so! They in fact require what is called a "suspension of disbelief" (or, alternatively, a suspension of belief, something I have never understood). This is apparently rich comic material. Fantasy novels are not actually possible, and in real life they would have crazy consequences.

I might be more forgiving of this comic if it were the first time Randall had done the "what would a sarcastic person have been like in classic fantasy situation?" joke, but it's not. And it's not something I am going to stay amused by for long. As commenters on the last post pointed out, not only are there series that do deal with this question (what came to my mind was The Number Devil), and further, isn't a better question "why do they need a 12 year old to save them anyway?"

Anyway, in short, yeah, apparently fantasy novels are sometimes not totally accurate.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Comic 692: Dirty Randall

Dirty Wirty Birty
OK. I'm going to go out on a limb and say I hate this comic. It's getting a lot of lukewarm response from a lot of people who should know better, and I really just have to put a stop to that. This is terrible.

This is "What if Pop Culture Thing A and Completely Unrelated Pop Culture Thing B were combined in some way? What would it look like?" It's basically like comic 575. This is the author saying, "I can combine things and imagine the results!" But this one is even lamer than that, because the result is so stupid. Yes, the dude from Rain Man was obsessive about counting things. So hey, he knows the answer to Dirty Harry's question! HA. He likes to count, get it?

No attempt to explain how the situation occurred, no further result than this one conversation, nothing else. This was just thinking of how one character would act in one scene of another movie, and calling it a day. That's just dumb. Super, super dumb.

Also, the alt text: "Sci-fi has energy weapons because otherwise the people like me who watch it get distracted counting shots." Ugh. "people like me" = "look at me, I'm a quirky dude who likes to be a tiny little bit obsessive sometimes, do you do that to? Let's pretend this is actually a big deal and we are somehow autistic, and people will love us or at least be nice to us."


update: Commenter Bilbo, below, comes up with a great twist for this comic - instead of Rain Man, have The Count from Sesame Street. This is so much funnier. For one thing, the level of counting (all the way up to six!) is far more suited to the Count, who is, as we all remember from childhood, mostly interested in slowly counting up to fairly low numbers. But more than that, we all know that I love humor by contrast, and the contrast between two characters from Serious Movies For Grown Ups is far less amusing than a contrast between Character from a Serious Movie for Grown Ups and a muppet character from a Less Serious TV Show For Kids.

god, bilbo, that was a great idea. i am still laughing, in my mind.

You're Not In The Target Audience!

Hello, darling cuddlefish. I'm sorry I missed a week. It's not you, it's me. But I'm back, and I want to talk to you about something you've been saying a lot.

I know you think that it's clever or insightful to insinuate that we're not part of the "target audience" whenever we dislike an Xkcd that you liked because of its nerd references or whatever, but I think you should know that it's just not true. And it hurts, deep down where I'm soft like a woman, every time you say it.

The problem is it's not true, unless Xkcd's target audience is "everyone who likes Xkcd," which it isn't. Xkcd's target audience has always been, broadly, "nerds." Or more specifically, people who like nerdy humor. A lot of the appeal of Xkcd in its early days is that it felt like a comic that was made by People Like Us. Then it stopped being funny.

A lot of people seem to assume that the regulars here lack sufficient nerd cred to be considered part of the target audience. Maybe it's not apparent, but this is simply not true. We have mathematicians, computer scientists, physicists, and engineers, all of whom dislike the comic--often because, not in spite of, their expertise in the fields. There are several instances where I personally thought a comic was at least okay, only to find that it seriously offended someone who knew more about the field.

At the same time, it is worth noting that I'm not a stereotypical nerd. I'm a social scientist; I like creative writing and studying culture. I note this primarily because for the longest time, Xkcd was not just stereotypical nerd humor. This is easy to miss. It wasn't just a comic that was "LOL science!"--indeed, 3/4 of the comic's self-description is "romance, sarcasm, and language," all traditionally the fields of us non-hard-science people. Xkcd was remarkable because it bridged the gap between the nerdy and the non-nerdy. In many ways it marked a change in the culture, where being into traditionally nerdy things did not make you a social pariah, and where people who were not into traditionally nerdy things could still be at home among nerds.

In many ways this has not changed (more on that in a bit); it's the quality of humor that has declined. There is a reason that it has gone from possibly my favorite webcomic to a webcomic I'm happy to regularly say sucks on a blog. It's not that the target audience changed or I stopped being part of it; it's that it started sucking.

Now, has the target audience changed to an extent? Certainly. It is much more focused on the dregs of internet culture now, deriving humor from memes, memes, memes. "Hey guys, have you heard about the internet? IT IS HILARIOUS." The thing is, while this is certainly contributing to the comic's decline, it still doesn't alienate any of us from the target audience. Indeed, if anything this represents a broadening of the target audience.

Perhaps that's part of the problem--the comic was once geared towards "people who liked things which were clever," and is now geared towards "people who are complete idiots." If that's the case, then I'm proudly not part of the target audience, and happy to continue mocking it.

Finally, I'd like to point out this is mostly another ad hominem attack--it fails to actually respond to any of the points we raise about why Xkcd sucks.

Have an evening.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Comic 691: Shove It

high density of stupid in this here comic, yoWell now that we are all done arguing about 9/11 and terrorism and which country's residents are ignorant of which other countries, we can move on to the important stuff: Sticking things up one's ass.

The main character in today's comic loves technology so much, he wants to have sex with it, by putting it in his ass. His friend wants to clarify that he (the friend) will not put his hands up the main character's ass looking for the memory card.

I think we've all had a similar sentiment. Perhaps we did not want to put any piece of technology inside of us (I know I have never felt that need) but we all surely thought about just how much you can store in a small space, and how the capacity just goes up and up all the time. In that way, this comic is no more than comic 354, though to be fair, it at least tries to cram a joke in there. A joke about assholes. But the point is, "woah, hey, things are cool. Isn't that cool?"

Is anyone else annoyed at the inconsistency in this comic? In panel 1 he is scared to go near the thing, and then three short panels later, he's talking about fucking it. Also, I like the fact that while the character in panel 2 says "... on smaller than a dime," the art shows the drive next to some dimes, just to reinforce, yes, it is smaller than a dime! If you cannot read you can still get the point, how considerate.

Lastly, the forumites are using this as an excuse to show off how big their hard drives are, which is silly.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Comic 690: Incendiary Remarks

Semicontrolled Demolition of XKCD's reputation
First off, let's talk about this comic as though it did not have to do with September 11th. What's the joke? It's about the idea that a compromise between two "extreme" views is inherently good, and closer to the truth than the extremes from which it was derived. That's an all too common idea these days (you can hear plenty of people complain about examples where people in the media present two sides of an argument equally, even though one is clearly sensible and one absurd) and while I am all in favor of mocking it, I can't exactly say it is a fresh topic. Lots of people talk about this sort of thing. But still, it's a worthy target and this sort of mockery seems to be a good way to expose how dumb it is. It's the same as all the forum posts saying things like "Well, I think you punching my arm caused me a million dollars in damages. You say it barely touched me and I should shut up, and get nothing. Clearly, the fair thing is to compromise, and have you give me $500,000. HA HA."

That said, this comic doesn't present the joke in a vacuum. Randall needs, of course, a context for the idea, and he went with 9/11. Let's talk about that.

First off, I'm not opposed to making fun of 9/11. I think it's important to laugh in the face of these sorts of things, and that, especially in the case of terrorism, the way to not let them win is to not be scared, and laughter and jokes help with that. That said, it's still 9/11, 3000 people still died, 9 years ago, and the direct ripple effects of that are still with us. So what I'm saying is, at least for the next many years, make fun of 9/11 if you wish, but be careful about it, and make sure the joke is worth it. I know I've linked to this before, but here is the online version of the Onion's immediately post-9/11 issue (two weeks after 9/11). You should read all the articles. They are done brilliantly, combining humor with sympathy in a way that quite frankly I think every comedian needs to study, and hard.

Let's compare it to Randall's jokes about 9/11. A cursory search of my memory and xkcd's shitty, shitty search engine* gives three: a throwaway reference, a throwaway alt-text reference, and the two more interesting ones, a punchline and a joke in a long series of jokes. It's those last two that are more interesting. Comic 102 always struck me as really jarring - I don't usually expect such dark humor in xkcd, or most places. Think about it: the joke is her dad died on 9/11. Funny in some ways, but you really have to be in the right mindset.

(update: xkcd's crappy search function made me miss another one: 647. I'd call that one pretty much neutral, using 9/11 as a historical benchmark in the way many sudden tragic events, like the Kennedy assassination, are used).

(later update: Ian Jones points out another 9/11 comic, even a 9/11 truther comic, 258. It's not funny at all, but the point is, these jokes were funnier back then, in the first half of 2007. Now, they are a little old. Hell, even the birther conspiracy folks are old. What's a good new one?)

* Yes, I know Randall's search engine is Oh No Robot, made by man-god Ryan North. But he needs to freaking update it and also not constantly repeat comics in it.

And Secretary Part 3, with its joke about the 9/11 Truthers, making it a good one to compare to today's comic. I like the older one more - claiming 9/11 was a hoax because it didn't happen is a pretty absurd idea, and I like it - it parallels the absurdity of the 9/11 Truthers. But this one just isn't as interesting.

Today's comic is of course new ground in xkcd-9-11 jokes, because it has an actual drawing of the twin towers. Like the subject of 9/11 itself, you have to be careful. Here - let's remember what he is drawing:
that's what he is taking and making a joke out of.

I really really don't want you to think I'm opposed to making any sort of joke about a tragedy - that's why I stressed so hard that it can be ok. But seriously, make sure it is worth it! Was this comic worth it?

I'm worried that 9/11 is quickly becoming the new all-purpose topic for jokes when you want to prove you aren't scared of making jokes about a touchy subject, a la the holocaust / hitler or dead baby jokes. Or rape jokes. Basically anything Cyanide and Happiness makes jokes about regularly. There are good jokes about Hitler - just watch The Producers. But they are vastly outnumbered by shitty jokes that people made because they aren't funny enough to think of good ones, and are substituting shock value for humor value. The fact that awkwardness or tension sometimes manifests itself as laughter can be enough to convince these people that they should continue to make such jokes.

Maybe I don't even dislike this comic - I'm not sure. My thoughts about its subject matter are getting in the way, but maybe that itself is proof that it's a bad comic. I'm also a little bothered that more people aren't concentrating on this part of it - they're just taking the context of 9/11 in stride and talking about the truth-lies-halfway-between-two-claims part.

I wasn't expecting this post to turn so philosophical (hey guys let's debate the justifiable limits of free speech in the comments!) so take it as a set of thoughts inspired by the comic.

ha ha, truthers.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Comic 689: Robo Trumble

Did this comic confuse you? Perhaps it is because you are not a high school student. I guess we should start with the explanation, which would be obvious to even the most simple minded high school student with an interest in robotics and a knowledge of robotics competitions.

The title, which you thought was just mis-capitalized, in fact refers to the FIRST Competition, though besides the title of the comic, which just has the word "First" which is a word that can mean many things, there is no other overt reference to the competition.
SO the idea is that the robots are competing in some type of robo-sport, and rather than create a robot which follows the rules, this robot destroys the others with water while protecting itself. It is cheating, or being clever about the rules, depending on your point of view. See the robot is really two robots in one; the tall one, which sets off the sprinkler conveniently located directly above the stadium, and the short one, which is basically a normal game-winning robot, but with an umbrella.

This could be any of a number of robotics competitions, but for the name of the comic, telling us it is a particular contest for high schoolers. Now why on earth would he choose a particular contest? Why limit it? I have one theory, with which you may agree or not, but here it is: some people, upon reading this comic, may feel a special bond with it, because they participate in that particular contest. These people are, of course, all high-schoolers (advanced mathematics my ass). But the point is that they wouldn't have that joy of recognition had a particular competition been named. even though there is nothing specific about the comic that relates to the FIRST competition! Astounding.

Moving on to the comic's idea in general, I liked Ar-PharazĂ´n's comment about it:
Well, I entered a few robotics competitions too (not this one) and by the end of week one, everyone on our team had shared a billion variations of this "joke" with the rest. Robots that get the other one wet, robots that flood the whole building, robots that carry explosive payloads for kamikaze attacks, robots that have guns to shoot the other team, blah blah. Then we figured that we should stop dicking around and get to work.
It's true. The idea of drowning other teams' robots is clever, but no more or less clever than any of a dozen other get-around-the-rules ideas (though many FIRST fans have, in fact, listed the numerous rules that this breaks). In that sense it reminds me a lot of the egg drop competition comic.

AND LAST, points to the anonymous commenter who suggested that "the law of FIRST robotics" would be a far more clever name for this comic.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Official xkcdsucks Mascot

I was organizing some clothes yesterday, and one of my dogs peed ALL OVER the xkcd t-shirt I received at the book party. This is unusual for her, and she did not soil any of my other clothing. I can only conclude that the offensive presence of the shirt drove her to this behavior.

I therefore give you the official xkcdsucks mascot, Miss Tesla Connery.


carl here. ALORIA. you may have bought be fabulous gifts but you do NOT get to declare any official xkcd anything. We have an official food and two official mottoes (i forget what one of them is) and we do not have a mascot. COME ON. i gave you blogging powers so you could guest blog while I am busy fighting crime, not brag about the quirky, nerdy names you give your pets.


WTF. OBVIOUSLY her name is Connery because she is a SCOTTISH Terrier and thus must automatically be related to Sean Connery. You do not want to fuck with a relative of the original (and best) James Bond, do you?

I did not think so.

carl again. I DUNNO aloria, if his best weapon is pissing on my shirt I can't say i'm so terrified (terrier-ified?). this blog has no mascot THE END.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Comic 688: There Is No Title For My Post About Comic 688

Self DeSUCKSption
OK guys, I've said this before. I love self-reference. I don't know why. I think it's hilarious. I love Stephen Colbert's portrait. I love the question "What question is its own answer?" and other Douglas Hofstadter-type sentences. Yet, I don't like this comic.

I think it's because this comic acts like it is really clever and took a lot of hard work when it clearly didn't. Especially if you read the alt-text ("...The graph of panel dependencies is complete and bidirectional, and each node has a loop..."), he's trying to act like the fact that he made this is somehow impressive. Now he's made impressive comics in the past, but this isn't one of them. for one thing, he has his usual habit of not labeling his axes (where the hell did he learn math, anyway?). "Fraction of this image" in panel 1 is not a fraction at all, but merely a piece of a pie chart (and while we're at it, it's a total copy of the Pac Man thing). He could have at least called it a percentage and included a label with a percent in each segment.

Panel 2 could also be labeled better. I mean, ink can be measured (either by volume if we are still pretending this is real ink on real paper, or area). I mean, there is no "amount" anywhere in there. A line is not an amount.

Panel three is the least clear; I think he just wanted to include images of all the panels, including a tiny little version of panel three itself (even this concept is not new to Randall). Why are there 0s at the beginning? What unit does that represent? I guess it's distance in each direction, in some kind of unit. I think what annoys me is that such a graph is meaningless - a chart is supposed to organize data into a useful (well, ok, sometimes) form - a chart that represents its subject by recreating it is missing the point. It's just a replica; it doesn't tell you anything you can't figure out from the original.

Also, saying "this image" in the first and last panels is unclear; it could refer to the panel or the comic as a whole. In this case it is the latter, still, using the word "comic" would be nice. Or even make it one big panel/image, then you wouldn't have the problem. Thought I guess that would invalidate the bar graph, so never mind.

Lastly, the alt-text. It's another case where I think he had two different ideas and just figured, the hell with it, I'll include both. The first was trying to make this whole thing seem fancier than it is, as I mentioned above, and the second was trying to work in a comment in the alt-text about the alt-text. I was disappointed that he went for counting characters, though, since i think that's a bit too easy (for example, he could replace two hundred and forty-two" with "220" and it would also work). That's especially true given that he has more content in the alt-text than just the description of itself, so if it had added up wrong he could always change it to "two hundred and forty-six" and just add four more characters somewhere. Not terribly complicated.

I was hoping he would go for the more challenging variant of listing how often each letter occurs, like so:
This sentence contains three a's, one b, three c's, two d's, thirty e's, two f's, two g's, nine h's, nine i's, one j, one k, one l, one m, twenty two n's, thirteen o's, one p, seven r's, twenty one s's, twenty three t's, three v's, eight w's, and five y's.
(this sentence comes from here, see way too much of this nonsense over here). That would actually take effort, unless a website exists just to create such a thing. Does it?

Of course, the best irony is that the whole thing is utterly wrong; there is also lots of gray ink all over the place that is not accounted for anywhere. here, look:

Just look at all that gray surrounding the black! it's not in the pi chart at all. Next time, try aliasing, randall.

Also, this. Also, this.

PS - reading that Randall Munroe guest strip on dinosaur comics makes me feel so very weird, with my least favorite writer putting words into the mouths of my most favorite comic's characters. It is perhaps the closest I will ever get to the Capgras Delusion.

PPS - what?
PPPS - ok, this makes up for it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Comic 687: Out To Sea

more like DUMBensional Analysis!!! ha ha ha.
In today's comic, we see stupid people acting stupid in front of other stupid people, for our amusement. I am not sure that "abusing dimensional analysis" can really count as a hobby for Randall, at least as portrayed here, unless "college degree and a few years selling shirts on the internet" are now enough qualifications to teach science.

I think at its heart there is a funny idea in the center of this comic, something centering around a guy who is totally convinced that "England will drift out to sea." Perhaps in part because it is an island already, and it could move a few inches every century without consequence (maybe it is? I don't remember, the examples they always give are India or Mount Everest or something). And I think using italics for it was good - you probably know that I am a fan of judicously placed italics (but I will not work an example in here because i am just that classy).

Still, on the whole, the comic doesn't add up for me. Perhaps if he had shown some of his work in the equation you wouldn't need comments like "I'm interested in knowing if the math works out." As it is, you have to take a seemingly random equation on faith, or do the work yourself. I think it's funnier to know that Randall actually put in effort to finding random data that ends up equalling pi, but beyond his say so you wouldn't know it just from reading the comic.

Then, of course, he hits you with way too much info in panel two - the jump from "here's an equation" to "it must be a fundamental law" is important to the comic (otherwise he couldn't draw the conclusions he does later) but it's thrown in with little emphasis. In part, that's because the students ignore it, and jump into asking questions about implications, where you are already on your next set of stupid-people assumptions. When Randall has pacing problems, it's usually taking too long with what he's writing; today, I think he speeds through his content too fast.

Also, in the "realistic dialog SMACKDOWN" report, I don't think anyone would say "but what if they build a better prius?" to that question. "better" would be a Prius with laser beams that could shoot at crappy drivers. "More fuel efficient" is the natural way to ask why he is asking.

And of course, the alt-text is a gigantic let down. Perhaps if he had made some sort of hyperbolic "earth's pressure rising and killing us all!" joke as the main joke, and then the thing about England drifting off to sea as the alt-text, it could have worked better.

other news:

Even though Aloria sucks at blogging, I let her do it because she is very rich. In fact, Rich Uncle Aloria is the only person who responded to my recent demand for presents, sending me a Dinosaur Comics shirt along with a note that I smell like the inside of an old lady's handbag. This is true, there was actually such a note in the package. thanks, aloria? Anyway to keep things creepy she also demanded a photo of me wearing the shirt, and so I have uploaded one here:

also the new motto of this blog is "cool shirt, lame pants!"

Still seeing how ads on the site are working out, still looking for feedback. If anyone's worked with Google AdSense before and wants to give me any advice, that would be awesome. If anyone is super bored and wants to double check that I am not violating their policies that too would be great. In a related note, in order to appease the gods of Google, I CAN NO LONGER SELL FIREARMS THROUGH THIS SITE. THIS SITE IS NOW ONLY ABOUT WEBCOMICS, NOT A PLACE WHERE YOU CAN BUY FIREARMS. we all have to make sacrifices.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Comic 686: Admin Boring.

SURPRISE, motherfuckers! I am back. Carl asked me to post on this one since he is a stupid newb who does not understand teh Linux*.

Since all of you are clearly not in xkcd's target audience and therefore techo-illiterate, allow me to spell this comic out for you. You see, the truly 1337 do everything in command line. Since your brains have most likely atrophied from years of Windows use, I suggest if you attempt to use one you stick with something like bash. Trying to use zsh right off the bat would be an experience on par with looking into the eye of God, and your feeble brain would melt before you could reform your sad, fascist, non-OSS using ways.

Once you have stumbled around this superior way of doing things, you will likely find yourself wanting to use more than one terminal at once. Many users running their own Linux boxen will end up using Gnome or KDE to open many terminal windows. This is a mistake. This also isn't even an option if you're sshed into a remote system. What to do? Use the incredible screen command. This allows you to switch between multiple virtual terminals with simple keystrokes! How amazing. These adorable little screens merrily run in the background as you do other things.

Which brings us to this comic. A user has died, but his screen sessions live on. The server owner is reluctant to reboot his server, as this would kill those last echos of the user's former life. Wait, what? Does he need to recompile his kernel or something? WHY WOULD HE WANT TO REBOOT? Uptime is glory! Plus, Linux deserves better than cheap lowbrow humor like puns! You do not serve a classy lady like Linux McDonalds and box wine for dinner, you serve lobster and fine champagne! And not just a pun, an anime pun?! Anime is for chronic masturbators; Linux users are a much higher class of geek.

I mean, does THIS:

look like some sort of pun making, anime watching nerfherder? I THINK NOT.


Thanks to jwc for being my muse for this post.


Friday, January 8, 2010

Don't You Have Anything Better To Do?

Hello again! Has it already been a week since we last spoke? My goodness, how the time flies. Today I am going to talk to you about the common cuddlefish complaint, "don't you have anything better to do?" But first, this aside: I don't know precise figures of hits-per-day, but this blog tends to get upwards of 100 comments per post. While there are a lot of regular contributors, there's also a lot of new and anonymous comments each time. The conclusion I am making here is this: the cuddlefish that complain that we're just jealous that we're not successful are unlikely to ever write something that gets as many viewers or as much discussion as this blog. Food for thought!

Moving on. Don't I have something better to do? Let's take a good hard look at that sentence, because it is loaded. First: it implies that the blog is a waste of time. Second: it implies that the blog takes a lot of time to write. Third: it implies that writing this blog is the only thing we ever do.

The most valid of these attacks is the first one. Writing for this blog, and commenting on the blog and so on, is pretty much purely for entertainment, and you could argue that doing something just to amuse yourself is not the best use of your time. However, participating in the community here also serves some other functions:
  • The best way to improve one's writing is to write frequently. This blog gives everyone involved the chance to write frequently.
  • The best way to improve at skills of analysis is to analyze frequently. What do we do if not analyze XKCD here?
  • Ditto critical thinking, developing a coherent argument, et cetera. The comment threads are frequently a forum for intelligent discussions (and also frequently a forum for brainless cuddlefish arguments) where involved parties develop coherent arguments and think critically about both their own and other arguments. These are useful skills!
Of course, I am here primarily to entertain myself, but as far as a form of entertainment goes, I think this one is fairly constructive on a personal level.

The second one--implying that we're wasting a great deal of time on the site--is simply not accurate. At most a post like this takes a half hour to write, and I do it once per week. More likely, it takes 15-20 minutes to write, and I spend a lot of that time doing other things. Comments are shorter. At the very most I probably sink something like two hours a week on the blog here, and I have seamlessly integrated it into my workflow. It serves as a nice way to take a short break from reading or writing a project, to clear my mind, et cetera. It's a hobby.

The third one--implying that this is the only thing we ever do--is the most baffling. We all have lives and projects. We all have work or school or whatever to occupy our time and minds. I'm happy with my writing and my other projects. I would not struggle to find something to replace this blog were it to suddenly fall silent. But it's fun and it's reasonably successful, and I see no reason to leave.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Comic 685: G-Stop


Dang - I put this post up early because I figured that people would want to complain about it. And then most people said they liked it! COME ON.

There are, though, a lot of things to like about this comic:
-Most importantly, the punchline comes at the end. This is unusual for xkcd (see: the previous comic) and as you will notice, it makes the comic funnier.
-The punchline is conveyed in as few words as possible.
-Rather than tell you that this researcher is having sexytime troubles, he lets you figure out, at least a part of it, for yourself. Panel 3 interrupts the question (panel 2) and the answer (panel 5) making it a little more complicated.

Anyway, I still feel really gross about the comic - if it hadn't been for all those other do-me-without-a-condom style gross comics it might not be so bad, but as it is I can't help but not the subject. It's like Randall gets a certain amount of "explicit sex" credits and he's used them all up long ago on much worse comics.

But hey, let's try to be positive: Whatever you think of the joke, it was well executed, a rare trait for xkcd, and heck, even yesterday's comic was closer to being well executed than most. WHO KNOWS how great friday's comic will be?

update: I forgot all about this, but you should check out last Friday's first installment of Penny Arcade's Blamimations, made by Kris Straub and Scott Kurtz. I didn't really know what to expect, given that I don't read Mr. Kurtz's comic and I read the less-popular of Mr. Straub's comics (though I do enjoy it). I think it shows a lot of promise - the stories are the sort of absurdist looks at pop culture that I enjoy in Chainsawsuit, and the voices are done well, in a way that adds a lot to the humor (see especially the phone conversation at the beginning of animation #1). The big complaint I have is that the "animation" is too often just a still image - there's rarely any movement. It makes it harder to see as a movie and more just like a series of comics, with someone narrating the dialog. If that were changed (I would say the amount of animation needs to at least triple) I think this could turn out to be something quite excellent indeed. but enough about what I think. What do you think?

Comic 684: Telling the World

We Get It Randall

What Fred said.

Ok, I'll say a little more, I guess. Taken on its own, this is a pretty good comic. Who hasn't been / been standing next to That Guy? The pause that panels 2 and 3 provide before the punchline is good, it increases the tension (particularly because it comes in the middle of the sentence) that is then released with the punchline (which is in panel 4; more on that later). So it's better put together than the usual comic.

But that's just taking it on its own, and alas, I can't stop there. As every single one of you pointed out, there's a GIANT amount of hypocrisy in this comic, because for years, xkcd was nothing but comics that were entirely designed to show you that the author had a girlfriend, and she was cool, and they Sexed It Up with regularity. Fred's compilation is good; I also once made a list of such comics. Also, don't forget his general obsession with sex. Anyway, as the story goes, he then suddenly and mysteriously (?) stopped telling us about his girlfriend, and instead told us things like "relationships are full of sadness and sorrow" with messages like "I wish I had a robot to be my girlfriend," and "You all should kiss people more, I have come to see," and "When it comes to love, just give up." There are many, many other examples.

I'd like to say that this comic is a knowing self-reference to those earlier days, but I don't actually think it is. Randall has shown a remarkable inability to laugh at himself and his foibles, with most references being to memes he is trying to create (like the Height poster, which was full of previous xkcd jokes). I don't think he's poked fun at anything in such a way that he implied he had done anything wrong or annoying. Only that he done things awesome and great.

Lastly, a word on Post-Punchline Dialog (PPD). It's Randy's favorite tool for ruining all sorts of comics, and he uses it to great effect here. The punchline of this comic is "My GIRLFRIEND." That is where the humor is. That is what the build up is for, that is what people are supposed to recognize in themselves or their friends. Naturally, Randy keeps going, with a shitty 5th panel that doesn't even have the most important character pictured, because it is too text heavy to include him. What the hell? He is literally shifting the point to the other guy, who is not funny. "Legally required to stab you" ? What the hell is that, some kind of 9th grade legal rhetoric you picked up? And then ending with "Did I mention I'm seeing someone?" COME ON. You made the joke already! In the previous panel! And it was a good joke! Just let it be!

Now look, if you made a joke, and can then think of an additional joke that expands on the first, that's great. That's a wonderful situation to be in and can lead to a very funny result. But if your second joke is just repeating the first joke but in a more half-assed way, well, that's going to suck.

Speaking of editors, I see that the newest Penny Arcade reality show episode is up. This one is the first in a series that is basically filming Gabe and Tycho as they write a comic. It's very interesting to see, especially given my vantage point as XKCD Critic, because you can tell how important it is that they bounce ideas off each other and really work to make sure their end result is a good comic. I do hope Randall takes a look at it, and strongly considers having an editor...

Monday, January 4, 2010

Hourly Comic!

guys! John Campbell (you know! john campbell!) is doing his hourly comics again! For some reason my brain kept telling me that he does them in February but no, my brain is stupid, he does them in January. Like past years, he is encouraging people to make their own hourly comics on February 1st, and I am going to try to do that this year. Last year I said I would try but then I didn't. This year I will try harder. If any of you make them, put them up on the forum he sets up and give us a link.

So far the comics look pretty good, though today's had a lot of disconnected stuff. We'll see how they go.

I think last year my computer was broken horribly on February 1st, that might be my excuse. But it won't happen again!

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Comic 683: Science: It's Boring, Bitches

Science Montage if montage means the same thing as UTTER SHITTT

Oh SCIENCE. The Most Boring of Things. People seem to think it's crazy and awesome, and movies always make it look super fun, but really it is actually boring as shit.

But why on earth do people think it is interesting? it's not like anyone ever tries to make Science look awesome, like, make it look like it involves flying sharks, so that little girls want to do it. It's not like anyone sells shirts with that exact idea. Or a shirt that says "Science: It Works, Bitches" or "Stand Back: I'm going to try SCIENCE" or anything else that would make something think science is exciting! It's not like those shirts advertise by showing pictures of people with exciting looking liquids doing exciting science! Not to mention gettin' all the hottt chicks!

So it's not like anyone out there is actually promoting the idea that science is somehow fun. seriously, where the hell do people get ideas like that? Here we are at xkcd, which only tries to make science look boring all the time, and lead to boring results or stuff like that. It certainly doesn't talk about physicists gettin' hott threesome action. Or hott lesbian action. SO WHERE THE FUCK ARE PEOPLE GETTING THE IDEA THAT SCIENCE IS FUN? Why do people think science is something cool, when it is just boring? these things are a mystery to me.

Luckily, there are some sources out there that try to say, no, science is not as fun as in movies. These brave souls push BACK against those who would make you think science is all fun, all the time. For example, this PHD Comic is like that. And this FoxTrot. And this video compilation - on digg's front page a few weeks ago! Heck, even this obscure webcomic called xkcd did that one time (alas, only panel 1 is relevant here).

So thank god that a few brave souls noticed that Hey, movies are sometimes silly with how they portray things!

And let's hope xkcd continues to be a good soldier in the fight against making things look cooler than they actually are.


Wait, didn't we just get a "movies are hilariously unrealistic" comic?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Where's Your Webcomic?

Hello, my name is Rob, and I am utterly incapable of producing anything creative at all. This is why I criticize things! You see, critics cannot write anything of their own. All they are capable of doing is write negative reviews of things. This invalidates all of their negative reviews! (Positive reviews are, of course, unaffected by this.) It makes it very difficult to be a critic, because you have to write a best-selling novel in order to criticize fiction, a smash hit film in order to be a film critic, a platinum album in order to write music reviews, and, of course, a successful webcomic in order to write webcomics reviews. So why don't we all just focus on that, if we hate it so much? OH RIGHT it's because we are incapable of producing anything.

Not every cuddlefish who makes this attack demands that we make our webcomic as successful as Randall's, of course. Some seem like they would be content if only we produced something--I think the implication being that you are only capable of either writing or criticizing; never both. I guess that means that if only we were to produce something--anything!--this blog would immediately go away.

I will start with the assumption that none of us produces anything creative, because it is easily dismissed. This is not true! Several regulars create their own webcomics. I write morose microfiction on my blog nearly every day. Some others write fiction of their own, and I expect there are other artists I'm not aware of in our midst.

With that said, let's continue: do critics need to be experts in the field they are criticizing? (Spoiler alert: no, no they don't.)

That is certainly a question! Unfortunately, the skill required to read something is not the same as the skill required to write it. Ditto art, music, film, et cetera. The job of the entertainer is to entertain an audience. If a member of the audience did not like it, the entertainer has failed in this regard. This does not automatically make their art a failure, but it does mean that the person who failed to be entertained is entitled to express why it is they disliked it. Even--no, especially--if they are not experts in the field. Most of us are not.

So! XKCD. We mock it regularly. It is pretty terrible these days. The regulars here--a diverse cast, all!--routinely dislike it. Routinely! And we derive pleasure from mocking it. Am I somehow more qualified to write about XKCD because I'm a writer than someone who doesn't write? Because they are quite capable of disliking it just as much as I am, and they might have a different perspective.

I can envision scenarios where being a writer would make me like something more, and situations where it would make me like something less. Similarly, mathematicians and scientists are often equipped to find things they like or dislike that I simply wouldn't notice in XKCD.

This particular cuddlefishism confuses me, I think because it is pretty much the textbook definition of an ad hominem argument--if I point out, for instance, that Randall is too wordy and that if he tightened up his dialogue he would produce a much sharper comic of higher quality, and some cuddlefish comes and says "yeah I don't see your webcomic," he is doing nothing but ignoring the argument by attacking some quality of mine--in this case, that I am not a popular webcomics artist. Does this somehow make Randall less excessively wordy? No, it does not. Does it somehow mean that his comic would not improve if he trimmed it down a bit? No, it does not.

And for the record, literally everything that I have ever written, including the terrible stuff that I don't let anyone see from middle school, is better than the average XKCD.

GUYS it's carl here! look over on the left I made a WHOLE LITTLE AREA with links to these recent posts Rob made! that is so special. i hope he writes more. I also linked to them from the FAQ (the "lame" faq) in the answers to the relevant questions. Keep an eye on Rob guys, he is an up-and-comer on the blog.

Friday, January 1, 2010

10 best xkcd comics 201-400

A million years ago, back in the first months of this blog, I wrote two posts, one each about about my favorite and my least favorite xkcd comics. I forget why I did this. The favorite one was to show that I liked a lot of comics; the least favorites may have been a necessary byproduct of having to sort through so much crap to get my 10 favorite.

ANYWAY the point is, I limited myself in both cases to the first 200 comics, which was then about half the total output of Randall Munroe. I figured I would get to the next 200 comics soon. WELL, it's far too late for that, but better late than never, and so here is my acclaimed follow-up to my acclaimed original, the 10 BEST XKCD COMICS, 201-400.
First, some notes: Unlike last time, I am a Trained Professional now, and so I am going to throw a little more commentary in there. And screw "no need to clutter the page with images," I am going to clutter the fuck out of this page. I'm leaving all the original alt-texts in, for uh, scholarly completeness? Let's get started!

On my first run through the comics, I found 16 stand out great comics (and, oddly, 16 stand out terrible comics. But I'll get to those in a few days). I narrowed it down surprisingly easily.

In chronological order:


I like it because he doesn't just complain that people are dumb, he gives us examples ("showing" in addition to "telling"). Of course they are made up, but they are funny: Both sides are total idiots, not just the side we all agree with. The extra effort of drawing in the video at the top is also a nice touch I don't think he'd do today. Contrast this comic with 481, which makes the same point ("youtube comments r dumb") but in such a terrible way.

Collecting Double-Takes
This is just great. This is probably the best of the bunch. It's a great example of what I love in comedy, which is having to figure out for yourself exactly what conclusion the author is aiming for (I usually call this "making the jump in your head or something"). Part of the fun of reading this is the moment - no doubt very soon after you read it - where you go "OH, that way people will this he's all pervy." And the alt-text does this again, with an even better, darker joke.

Tabletop Roleplaying
I'm a sucker for self reference, and the idea of escaping to a fantasy world in order to play a game - The very thing you are doing in this world! - is great. The added detail that the characters would have to "whittle" dice and make sheets on "parchment" just shows how much effort they are putting into this pointless exercise. Pet peeve though: "Recursing" as a verb bothers me. It sounds like you are cursing, again, and the change from the softer "zh" sound in "recursion" to the "ss" in recursing annoys me to. "Hey! No recursion!" would have worked fine. OH WELL.

Comic FragmentLink
Totally a noodle incident, which is usually a cop out for humor, but I'm making an exception: This comic is clearly trying to make as crazy a noodle incident as possible - constantly adding in more crazy details, right up to the final word. And dammit, the details he chose were funny.

Not sure I can explain this one, so I'll take a pass. Another comic that stands out just fine on its own, but with an alt-text that makes it just great.

Wikipedian Protester
I think this is one of the few xkcds that just gets better the more you think about it. The fact that "Citation Needed" is a sort of passive-aggressive form of protest on wikipedia, coupled with the fact that demanding a citation for a fact is actually a really good thing to do to a politician, AND another great alt-text makes this a great comic. Also, it's one of the first I ever read. In this case, minimalism works for Randall. That will not always be the case.

Nighttime Stories
I love this one even more now. Given the "love is wonderful!" tone that xkcd began to embark on around comic 350 or so, this perfect subversion of the expected is lovely. It is so perfectly set up for you to think that these two quirky people have found quirky true love in a quirky way that you are all ready to just vomit all over them, and then you find out no, this relationship is over before it began. So satisfying! If this came out now, I would think it was an xkcd parody. The colors and shadows feel a little too "just practicing my photoshop skills"-ey but it still helps set the tone nicely.

This comic didn't earn its place here for mailing bobcats - If I am a sucker for self-reference, I am an anti-sucker for random humor - it got on the list for the feedback. I love how casual and descriptive the feedback is, and how it is almost all overwhelmingly positive. The title - a place xkcd rarely finds humor - adds to this nicely as well.

Sometimes I write that contrast is a good source of humor. The contrast between the violence and chaos of what happened to the Buyer and the neutral tone of his feedback leads to Komedy Gold (this is the first time I have used that phrase non-sarcastically).

Another great subversion, AND another great contrast! This comic is full of lessons for us all. The lovey cutesy comic ends with a totally unexpected, non-cutesy visual punchline, thus avoiding pukes a-plenty, and the contrast of Love on top of the mattress and War below is also lovely. WELL DONE!

(i have to remember "pukes a-plenty", that is a great, Ryan North-type phrase)

update: well, looks like this is the one people disagree on, or at least, disagree the most with. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that one of these gets vehement opposition from the blog regulars. I should clarify: Yes, this is usually the sort of irritating "i love love!" that I hate in xkcd, but the fact that it ends with the Quirky Couple fighting (or rock 'em socking whatevering) in addition to their love nonsense is at least a bit of a change of pace. BUT NO MATTER, we must simply disagree on this comic and try to agree on (most of) the rest.

And Last,
How it Works
From only a few weeks before I started this blog. This one got lots of links from feminist-type websites, and I think it carefully toes the line between making a great point well and making a good point badly. This comic is making a point about society and how it treats women in mathematics; in that sense, I think it is unlike any other xkcd. There are others that try to do this (like the one about being nice to furries) but they also try to make jokes; what's great about this is that it presents the double standard as the joke. In other words, rather than doing something funny, this comic holds up a mirror to us as says, you, you are being funny. In the sense of "stupid." Well done, Randall - it was tricky to pull off, so be careful before you try again.

WELL that brings us to the end of the list! Before you go, you can check out the honorable mentions:

GOOD, BUT NOT GOOD ENOUGH: The 6 that I had to cut:
238 (I like the jagged text on "Saturday Night"; I think it does a good job of conveying the exact tone that the person on the other end of the line is making)

SO - tell me why you think I'm wrong - which of these comics suck, and which ones did I unfairly leave out?

(10 worst comics of 201-400 will come in a few days, *hopefully*)


Happy New Year. January's charity will be Wikipedia. I am sure you can guess why.