Friday, April 30, 2010

Contest Finalists! Finally!

Remember how about two years ago I put advertisements on my website, in order to grow fabulously wealthy, and then I was like "IT'S OK I"LL GIVE YOU GUYS SOME OF MY RICHES" and decided I would do it with a contest? No? You don't remember? Ask your grandparents, they may be old enough to remember.

Anyway, now it is thousands of years later and I have finally gotten around to picking some finalists! YES.

First off, I was surprised by how many of the entries referred specifically to xkcd sucking. i made the requirements of the contest really broad, and I was expecting more general, non-xkcdsucks specific humor. That said, most of the good ones were in this category, so you'll see it well represented in the four finalists.

OK let's look at the people who could be winners! THEY ARE:

JASON, with this better version of the rock climbing comic,
WAY WALKER, with a far, far improved version of Stephen and Me,
DAN, with this comic about how to make a joke,
FRED, for turning xkcd against itself.

Remember, one of these four fine people will win a $100 TopatoCo gift certificate and two others will win $20 ones. One of them will win nothing. OH WELL. I could have made some more finalists, so that more people would feel bad about losing together, or fewer, so that every finalist would win something, but hey, look at that, I didn't.

To vote, send me an e-mail with the subject line "I KNOW A WINNER WHEN I SEE ONE, AND {blank} IS A WINNER" with the {blank} replaced by the name, as written above, of the person you want to vote for. So if you wanted Imaginary Finalist Bill to win, you'd e-mail me with "I KNOW A WINNER WHEN I SEE ONE, AND BILL IN A WINNER" and then your vote will be counted by the magical monkeys at gmail. Put whatever you want in the actual e-mail, i maybe won't read those.

You can certainly vote for yourself, tell your friends to vote for you, etc. You have till next sunday (may 9th, 2010) at midnight to vote. I'll announce winners soon after that, unless it turns out again that i am a terrible liar.

ALSO, I should mention some folks who came close but didn't make the cut - they win nothing but eternal fame and glory (but no money or anything):

Edison, for this,
David, for this.
Anonymous, for this. [this was not posted on the official contest page, plus i don't know who wrote it. otherwise it would have been a finalist. SUCKS TO BE YOU, anon!]

Also, the single worst comic entered was this one, from an anon who thought it was so good he posted it twice!

i hope that you enjoyed this contest, thank you

Comic 733: Code Words

short post today as I am seriously going to try to catch up on all e-mails, comments, and that nearly forgotten contest I started.

This is a comic that asks you not to think too hard. As Sepia put it in a comment, the phrase used in this comic is really a) not all that similar to things biologists would actually say, and b) if it is ever said by biologists, is probably the only phrase for which this "hobby" would make any sense. Most of the time, you could just used the tried and true method of replacing the caption of any "my hobby" comic with "My Hobby: Being Annoying" and it would make just as much sense, or more.

I think that this actually points to a really big change xkcd has made over the years: This comic is only funny if you look at the concept within the very narrow field of "the eagle has left the nest" but few other phrases, in other words, the phrase used in the comic is one of the few points that lie in the intersection between "phrases biologists use" and "phrases cliched secret agents use." If there were more points in that intersection, and I would love to hear suggestions, the comic would be better. Because you would read the one example, laugh, maybe, and then think of other examples, and laugh more. But there are no other examples!

Compare this to one of the old My Hobby comics:
The example in this comic, "sweet ass-car" is actually not great. But the great thing about the comic as a whole is that this actually is funny for most examples. "Big-ass douchebag," "lame-ass umbrella," "dumb-ass job" etc. You keep thinking of examples - when people keep saying the right phrases - and it keeps being funny.

But today's comic does not. There will be no people in biology class laughing inadvertently as they realize that whatever sentence was just said could double as secret agent code.

I say i am going to write a short post but i am always lying.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Comic 732: Low Quality

HDSV which stands for high def shit vision
Am I missing something here, or is Randall really trying to assert that modern TVs aren't that special? I mean, I don't know what resolution cell phone Randall has but if it's not the size of a huge TV (and I suspect it's not) and he doesn't stick it way up near his eye to look at it (and I suspect he doesn't), then the TV is going to look better, no?

This comic kind of feels like a guy who is annoyed that he can't have The Nicest Thing and is trying to justify it by complaining that it's not so special (is that cognitive dissonance? or is it more like a sour grapes thing? or both?). As far as I can tell, HDTVs are awesome (assuming you are playing a video or game or broadcast designed for them) and while perhaps computers can get a similar display, tvs are not computers. That's like saying that your watch has a cool calculator in it and some guys tells you "well woo hoo, except my computer over here has a way better one!" I mean it may be true, but that's not the point. Until it's as easy to hook up a video game console to a laptop as it is to a television, I won't care about the comparison.

update: I can't believe I forgot this! In response to the point from JWC that HDTVs are not just about resolution but about the whole experience, including, for example, sound quality etc, I realized this is the perfect place to embed one of my favorite youtube videos of all time! It is, in fact, the only David Lynch video I don't hate. I could go on and on about why there's clearly a difference between HDTV and phones, but we'd all be much happier if I just played the video.

As is happening with increasing frequency, I am once more very behind on e-mails and comments on the blog. I feel terrible about it, and will try to catch up eventually but I may fail, especially as each day brings with it more and more mail to read.

I am still planning to announce contest winners finalists on Friday.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Comic 731: Stranded

This should be short, it's a simple comic and I'm way behind on everything.

The point of this comic seems to be rather poorly thought out - the idea is that he thinks the ocean's all boring and empty but really it's full of pirate ships, squids fighting whales, submarines at 20 feet underwater, and jellyfish, etc. I guess it's try to say "guys! cool stuff is all around you!" which I find a little patronizing and annoying. It also reminds me a bit of the point of the There's Treasure Everywhere calvin and hobbes. [that was originally just a link to wikipedia but a kindly anon forwarded me the link to the actual comic]

The reason I think it's fundamentally a confused message - and i recognize that this is a case of me thinking too much about the comic , but hey, it's what I do - is that none of this actually helps the dude on the island. He isn't going to go exploring for ruined ships or dangerous huge animals. He wants normal sized fish and people to rescue him. In other words, I imagine Randall sort of talking down to this character and saying "don't you realize how much awesome stuff is around you!?" but of course, the response is, "that's lovely to think about for you non-trapped people, but I'm stuck on a shitty island. either rescue me or shut the hell up." And what do you say to that? What's the message of the comic now?

I also want to note that I am really sick of hearing about how damn much Randall loves Minard's map of Napoleon's Forces moving around Europe. I understand that it's a cool map, i know that Randall's hero likes it, but why the hell does he keep bring it up to us? I think this is the 3rd or 4th time.

also: guys, it's comic 731! Do you remember what was exactly 100 comics ago??

Comic 730: Feel The Electricity

Circiut Diaghram

This comic, like others before it, is basically throwing everything possible out there and seeing what sticks. Don't like some of the jokes? Read the other 15, maybe you will like those better. I didn't really like that many of the jokes, while I have never taken electrical engineering, they seem like the sorts of things that a half-clever student would doodle in his or her notebook while bored.

Note well! While I am not an electrical engineer, this does not prevent me from understanding many, if not all, of the jokes in this comic! For example: I can tell that "place tongue here" is funny because while it would complete the circuit, it would also electrocute you. HA! Also, "open and close door real fast" is a hilariously cumbersome way to simulate the switching of the circuit from off to on (if my terminology is wrong, fuck you, i still get the idea). Many jokes based on the broad category of "electronics work by black magic" variety.

There's not much else there; it's not a comic that tells a story or has a punchline, just a long series of little (supposedly amusing) doodles. I did note with some degree of pleasure that there was only a single self-referential meta joke, and that was contained within the alt-text. We are not always so lucky.

Three other notes- I shall vanish over the course of this weekend and may not post till very late, perhaps as much as a full day late;

I will post the finalists in the contest on Friday April 30th (i have still not worked on it yet but by promising that I will do this i make it far more likely that I will),

I know this is real late but if you aren't reading Axe Cop yet, then why the crap not? It is wonderful, unless you have no soul. Do you?

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Comic 729: Laughing Out Loud Cats

Cats! They appear calm and lazy! But they have SECRET, VIOLENT MINDS that constantly want to harm humans and get THEIR TERRIFYING REVENGE!

This is perhaps one of the most overplayed tropes there is. It has birthed a Dilbert character, a classic Onion headline, a far too old meme, a good comic (last time i checked anyway) a bad comic, and god knows what else.

The "It's all a dream!" plot is also overused, at least in xkcd. There was that school nightmare one, there was that piratey one? There was this one, and like before, there's probably more that I can't find right now. feel free to add things.

Anyway, this comic is just another crappy "Cats! what if they were EVIL??" joke. These are nearly impossible to do well, and this comic comes nowhere close.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Comic 728: The Future Is Now


This comic is so boring. You read it, and it does not cause any interesting thoughts in your brain. You go "huh."

I am also sick of the style of comics, of which this is one, that say "I have X product!" This one is I have an ipad. There's also I've Played Miegakure, I've Played Scribblenauts, I have a Kindle, I have a fancy-pants laptop (but what about....a fancy pants-laptop??) etc. I am sure there are more. Remind me if I missed any. (this is entirely looking past the "i have a girlfriend" style of comics, a beast unto themselves.)

the further boringness of this comic speaks for itself.

No, wait, one other thing:


Too similar? I say: probably!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Comic 727: Backslash Fiction

\/\/hy /\/ot?

OK so sometimes randall munroe is a huge obsessive (or at least pretends to be) and he gets a proverbial bee in his figurative bonnet over some minor thing that no one cares about but he does, so he can feel better than other people because he knows more than them. His fans like it, because it helps them feel better about themselves for the same reason. Let's all laugh at the people who don't know a slash from a backslash! Those stupid fuckers.

Randall often has a direct way of telling his fans that he has a particular oddity he is annoyed about today. So for example, there was this one about electricity or something, or this one about numbers too big for most people but not for him, or the one just like this one where a dude goes to extravagant lengths to put himself in a position of influence only to waste it on some stupid shit. So anyway, what I am trying to say is, I am sick of the style of "argh i am an ocd nerd who can't stand when things aren't done my way!"

But anyway, I think that's not really the biggest problem with this comic. If I wanted, I could always try to take the comic on its own, not in the context of all the other xkcds, and see how it does like that. So what do we have? We have 2 huge problems. One is that the energy levels just drops to dramatically from panel to panel. The first two panels set up what could be a fun situation. There's trickery, sabotage, etc, and it's all on TV! what is going to happen?? But then nothing interesting happens, he just wants to say his boring thing and move on. So that's terrible.

The other problem is the last few words of the comic, "...I die a little." Even if all the rest of the comic was unchanged, the first 3.5 panels could set up an ok ending. "Every time you do that I don't like, happens" is not a set up for which there are zero funny outputs. If the people on the news are pissing you off, do something about it! Don't just say you "die a little" ! That's lame to the max. Who gives a shit if you die a little? You are just a whiny little douche (i am talking to the character, here, you understand.) At least threaten to destroy something, or tell the newscasters that they look like idiots, or something. say that you made a program which will steal $10 from them every time they make this mistake, using your leet haxor skills. Or something! Don't just sit there and complain.

reread the comic and tell me that was the best possible ending. IT IS NOT POSSIBLE TO BELIEVE THIS.

Also, shit, when do newscasters ever do this? I don't think I've ever heard it. Have you?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Comic 726: Pilot Light

Sheeeeeet Selection
This comic, I will begrudgingly admit, isn't so bad. Maybe it's my desire to not write too much plus the knowledge that this post is already late, but I don't know- I haven't seen this joke done anywhere else, nor does it strike me as super easy and super obvious. In other words, I didn't say to myself "well who HASN'T thought of that idea when finding a plane seat online?"

That said, I still think it could be improved: Turn panel 4 into a thought bubble and then add a panel five where the joke is that the computer has a sarcastic response, along the lines of "very funny, nerd, you must think you are SO CLEVER." Obvious joke: subverted! Self-loving nerd: shot down (metaphorically)!

Tell me why I'm wrong, people. that's what i pay you for.

One Year of Homestuck

home stuck panel 1 of A BILLIONLink
For those of you who read MSPaint Adventures, you probably saw the blog post (is there a way to link to specific posts on the MSPA blog?) reminding you that today is the 1 year anniversary of the latest adventure, Homestuck, starting. Given that 1 year was the exact length of the previous adventure, it seems an appropriate time to muse on the story.

The main feeling I get when I read MSPA is disappointment. I started hearing about Problem Sleuth when it was finishing up, and rather than try to catch up, I figured I'd wait till it was done and read it all then (which I did, eventually). Then, when I learned there was a new story starting, I figured, awesome! I can read this one as it unfolds, and know what everyone else is talking about! People tend to use the word "epic" when describing PS, and it's hard to disagree with that. I can't say I loved the story, but it had a crazy energy and an undeniably vast scope, which intrigued me more than I can say it amused me. I certainly didn't regret reading it. Most importantly, it didn't take itself too seriously. You knew it was absurd, it knew it was absurd, but it said screw that, let's be wacky, come along for the ride.

That hasn't been the case here. The story in Homestuck has exploded - not only do we have the four different series of intertwining events surrounding John, Rose, Dave, and Jade, but we have the story of the Future Vagabonds, the Trolls interacting with everyone, some characters from the future now, skips back and forth in time, lots of new worlds - I just find it all overwhelming.

But as I alluded to before, I think the problem is that the story is taking itself a bit too seriously, a trap which PS didn't fall into. PS just fell apart into a fun ball of nonsense, but HS is taking its sweet time - does the story even feel close to a climax? If this were a five act play, I'd say we are maybe in the beginning or middle of act 3. And it's been a year! Andrew Hussie put some stats up in that blog post, and apparently PS was 1621 pages long - a record HS has already beat (1667 as of right now). But it's even worse: HS had tons of animations, tons more images, and tons, tons more words (PS: 45,000 words. HS as of now: 85,000. thanks a lot, fucking pesterlogs!).

To read HS in, in short, a greater investment of your time than PS was, and that alone was considerable (goodbye, four days in July that i will never get back!). Has it been worth it? I don't think so. A few panels were genuinely funny (usually when he suddenly reverts back to hs older, cruder drawings for comedic effect) but they were few and far between. For people who do still enjoy reading it, I'd ask you: Do you think it is funny, or do you like it for some other reason?

I'll take a break here to say something nice: The art has gotten way hecks of better, and a lot of the animations are downright cinematic in the best possible way. I can certainly appreciate the amount of work this effort is taking; I'm just skeptical that it's worth the time for the creator or for the reader.

Anyway, I'm curious for other opinions. What do you guys think of the story so far?

well SOMEONE fails at computing. I posted my Homestuck review twice (don't blame me, blame internet) and then realized people commented on both. I don't want to delete lots of comments so i am just posting this silly explanation.

in the above image, Jade represents me and the robot represents the entire rest of the world

Monday, April 12, 2010

Comic 725 Guest Post

I know I already wrote about how and why I hated comic 725, but a guy named Harrison sent me a post about why he hates it. I usually wouldn't post something about a comic I've already written about, but I thought this one was pretty good. ENJOY. and remember, when commenting: I didn't write this! it was a guest! blame him!


Dear Randall Munroe,

Your latest comic, "Literally," was so bad that it literally made me want to gouge out my eyes with a red-hot, rusty spork. Oh wait, no, that's wrong! I just figuratively wanted to commit grievous bodily self-injury. Ha! How ironic is that? It's like ra-ay-ain, on your wedding day, isn't it? No! Because rain on your wedding day isn't ironic at all! Oh, I'm in stitches right now! Figuratively, I mean. I didn't literally require stitches for, let's say, cutting open my face to try to remove that part of my brain in which the memory of "Literally" is now forever seared. That wouldn't work, would it? Because you didn't literally take a hot branding iron and press your shitty comic against my grey matter.

Oh, the hilarity! Oh, the comic misunderstandings! Also, what's up with airplane food, am I right?

Look, Randall, I'm not Carl Wheeler. I don't want to fault you for covering material other, funnier people have worked with before. It's hard to find utterly unmined veins of comedy, especially without any real day job and access to the largest store of information humanity's ever known. But the fact is, much like airplane food or Alanis Morrisette, the misuse of "literally" is such a trite "comedy" staple -- especially on the Internet! -- that even pointing out how trite it is has become trite. And since you literally spend half your time on the Internet (NOTE: Check this for accuracy) I'd expect you to have picked up on this. But it's obvious you haven't.

For the first three panels, you're not really even pointing out how stupid it is to get all uptight about misusing "literally." You're just making fun of its misuse. I say "fun," but since there's not really a joke, you're basically just going "And what's the deal with people misusing 'literally'?" (Imagine a Jerry Seinfeld voice there, of course, but it's not Seinfeld Seinfeld. It's The Marriage Ref Seinfeld. For shame.) Now, there's nothing wrong with a little bit of prescriptivism! I'm for Donald Duck, vaudeville, and variety, too, and the "cool" position -- inasmuch as there is one in linguistics, I guess -- is to be ultra-descriptivist, so hell, a little bit of linguistic conservatism might even be considered rebellious.

But in the last panel, you predictably make effortless fun of the prescriptivist stance. He's literally the craziest person ever! No, really, literally! Oh, I'm falling out of my seat laughing! (That was sarcasm, Randall. Isn't it funny how in a text-based medium, we don't have recourse to the usual ways of conveying sarcasm? Wait, no it's not, because it's not 1997.) This is a joke that's literally -- no, actually literally -- been made thousands of times before online, and you have nothing new to add to it.

Randall, I don't have time to check, but I think this might literally be the laziest comic you've ever done. [no, it's not --Carl ]

A few other things, in no particular order:

1. The first time I read this comic, I assumed for some reason that the bearded guy was a time-travelling version of Normal, "Literally"-Misusing Guy. Which left me pretty fucking confused. Much of this is my fault, yes, and I realize you have a certain aesthetic and want to stick to it, but: If you're drawing a comic with time travellers and alternate universes and that sort of shit, would it really kill you to GIVE PEOPLE SOME FUCKING DISTINGUISHING FEATURES?

2. While we're on the "distinguishing features" thing: Out of context, it's pretty much impossible to tell who's who in panel 3. I know, this is why we have a little thing called "context," and good on you for at least making it apparent on a second reading. (Also, at least you didn't give the girl a moustache this time. Or explicitly show her seventh-grade genitalia. Let's all give silent thanks for that.) But really, Randall, we both know you're not writing Gravity's fucking Rainbow, here. Don't make it harder on your reader than necessary.

3. I actually sort of liked the alt-text, though. Yes, it still deals with the beaten-to-death "literally/figuratively" thing, but it's a reasonably clever twist on it, and it creates an amusing image. That said, I'm less inclined to chuckle at it, coming as it does after a (figurative, thankfully) pile of total shit.

Are you a baseball fan, Randall? Opening Day was a couple days ago, and I think there's an analogy here (not a literal equating, though! That'd be wackily comic! Wait, no it wouldn't.) XKCD fans -- and yes, even after this long, terrible run, I still consider myself a fan -- are kind of like Chicago Cubs fans. They have to be willing to take a lot of disappointment, and at the end of it all, say: Well, there's always the next comic.

So: There's still next comic.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Comic 725: Literary

this is literally the alt text, but practically the title text.

Ah, the language police. Everyone who/that thinks he/she is a nerd loves to be an honorary member of that Language Police. For example, nerd-comic-for-the-sake-of-nerd comic "xkcd" once wrote this comic, a clear pander to the Language Police crowd. Similarly, Toothpaste for Dinner once did this and even made a shirt out of it. There is a certain class of people who just love to learn rules about proper usage of the English language and then proceed to correct other people about it. These people are not wrong, in fact, they are often correct. But their assholes (SEE WHAT I DID THEY'RE????). Also, they love to talk about how they do this.

Anyway, this comic is like that. Except, confusing. Where grammar is meant to clarify ideas in words and phrases, this comic just makes you go "huh?" Here's why - you can't tell anything about the people! Besides Hobo Man, all the people (both in the present and in the cut scene from the past) look the same. We're supposed to know that panel 3 people are younger, but since we can't see it, because all of Randall's characters look the same, he has to tell us. That's bad comedy! When people like me say things like "Show, don't tell" to people like Randall, this is what we mean - if you could just draw people and you drew younger looking people in panel 3 instead of just smaller looking people then you would not have such terrible, unfunny phrasing. Oh well, too late now.

Anyway, I think enough people make jokes about the misuse of "literally" that this contributes nothing. The examples of things supposedly literally done are nothing special - glued to a seat, exploded - so there's not much enjoyment to be gotten from them. The problem was Randall couldn't decide what the joke should be - is it that this guy went for years following one dude around waiting for him to mess up, and that's funny because, ha ha, he is obsessive? Or is it that the normal guy gets to mock the crazy guy by calling him "literally crazy" ? Alas, either one of these, fleshed out, could have been ok, but as is, they both are just lazy.

The problem with any joke about the misuse of "Literally" is that it will always, always, pale in comparison to the reality of misuse of "literally" by the current Vice President of the United States. Joe Biden is the master of misusing "literally" in hilarious ways ("Barack Obama will literally change the direction of this planet" cracks me up to no end, over and over and over again). Google it for more literally enjoyable examples.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Comic 724: Hell, No


Let's all say it together: it's not the worst "hell" comic he's ever done.

Before I get to what I want to say, a being named Doomerang sent me some complaints about this comic, which i've edited down here:

The problem all lies in the title. It gives away the joke. The thing about a joke is that you are supposed to give a set-up, then a punch-line. Compare the following:
“A horse walks into the bar. The barman sees him and asks ‘Why the long face?’”
“‘Why the long face?’ said the barman to the person who had just walked in and was a horse.”
The latest comic is basically the latter. Imagine, if you will, reading the comic without having seen the title. You see a picture of a Tetris game, you scroll down and what is this? The bottom is curved, it is all wrong! Then you see the caption “HELL.” And you realize that Randall is saying a nerd’s definition of Hell is an unbeatable game. It sounds crap written out like that I know, but come on work with me here. Kind of funny.

What you actually get with this comic is you see the word Hell, then see Tetris and think why is Tetris hell? Then you scroll down and see oh okay the bottom is curved. Huh. And it says Hell again. OK.

This travesty of composition could so easily have been avoided! He could have just called the comic ‘Tetris’ or ‘Blocks’ or something like that. Boring, I know, but the purpose of the title is surely just so people can find the comic when they are looking through the archives? They say “I want to see the comic where Tetris is unbeatable… ah this one is called ‘Tetris’, that’ll be it”. You don’t need to put the joke there. Seriously.

I guess this is why you guys are always going on about Randall getting himself an editor!

It's true! Having the title and the caption be the same just looks silly. Get rid of the title! It's been a long, long time since an xkcd title was worth anything and wasn't just ultra-bland.

Really, the problem is that jokes about tetris are laaaame. First off, there already exist variants of tetris which try to fuck you up, much like this proposal. In terms of sheer frustration expressed purely as a screenshot of a tetris game, there is always this shirt. [incidentally, Randall, when your joke is already basically the same as a shirt on busted tees, you have failed so hard.] There's even Roast Beef's depression+anxiety represented through horrifying tetris pieces.

In fact, on the Achewood thing, one comment on the latter strip wrote: "Nobody else in the universe would think to represent a man's thoughts by using an overly complex, never-gonna-fit Tetris shape dropping inexorably into an area where it will screw everything up." Well, what that guy didn't count on was Randall Munroe! Who, as we know, has never read Achewood.
But the best fucked-up-tetris comedy out there has GOT to be this video, from the magical fantasy land known as "Japan." Not only is it basically the same crazy frustration related to tetris (I mean, the spirit of this video is exactly the same as that of the comic), but it includes the lines "so many bathrooms!" and "why soybean??" How could you go wrong with that, I ask? Seriously you should watch that video, it's so dumb and silly yet it makes me laugh so hard.

Lastly, the alt-text is clearly designed to pander to as broad an audience as possible (mario) while still making nerds think he is referencing their "obscure" game (katamari).

well, that was obvious Update: As expected, someone's made a playable version of this comic. (thanks to Dragon2041 for the link, and sorry that i did not post the guest writing you sent me!) Go play the game. It's made wonderfully; the physics for the most part feel exactly right and I actually laughed playing it, which is not something I did when reading the original comic. There's something about seeing the futility of the whole pursuit, that no matter what you cannot make any progress and yet the game keeps giving you more shit to deal with. If i were an overworked factory person i might consider it a good metaphor for my life. Anyway - especially when my screen was totally full of mishmashed pieces, i kept thinking to myself "why did Randall just draw two pieces? This screencap is way funnier than his comic." Anyway, play it out, see what you think. To me it just confirms that this is a funny idea (if not that new) but poorly executed as a comic.

Guest Post: Why XKCD Is Pretentious

A few dozen years ago, a guy who I'll call Matt sent me an e-mail with a good essay about xkcd and how it appeals to its fans' sense of self-superiority, and then, for some reason, I did nothing with it. This was really lame of me. However, I am posting it now, so all is well (not really, i still suck heartily). Here is the post, guys.


Three times a week, Randall Munroe descends from the heavens and hands the Word of God to the unwashed masses. Sometimes, he brings humor. Sometimes, he tells us of an interesting new idea. And sometimes, just sometimes, he scorns us for something we are doing horribly wrong and need to change immediately.

xkcd can be awfully pretentious at times. It's really cute the way he thinks his stick figure webcomic and legion of socially awkward fans can act as an authority or instrument of social change. It's pretty annoying and it doesn't change a damn thing; so why does he bother? Well, I once had the privilege of having the great Randall explain it to me in person.

A few years ago, I was a college freshman and I was introduced to xkcd for the first time by my classmates. At first, I kind of liked it, even though I could tell it was quite bad from the start. It was something of a guilty pleasure. I came to resent it because everyone around me was convinced it was the second coming of Christ and talked about it constantly. But some time before that, I was pressured into going to a talk by Randall, who had graced our fair city with his presence.

He talked about his comic, and programming, and the usual stuff. At one point, though, he mentioned that he doesn't like the convention set by English grammar for quotation marks. English grammar dictates that you always put the period at the end of the sentence in quotes, like if you're ending a sentence with the word "cat." As a programmer, this annoys Randall.You see, the period is not part of the word, so it should go outside of the quotation marks, like if you're ending a sentence with the word "cat". (Never mind the fact that it takes quite a grammar nazi to complain if you get this wrong.) Even though Randall *can* adapt to the convention, it bothers him deeply to do so because he feels the convention is *wrong*.

He then justified being an inflexible non traditionalist by brining up the Myers-Briggs personality typology test, claiming that he and most of his readers are ISTPs. If you don't know what that means, don't worry; I didn't know either. He was kind enough to explain it. ISTPs are the sort of people who spend their lives thinking about frivolous nonsense like this and seething about it. This is a great example of this sort of thing. Now, you see, because of the way electricity works, it does not matter which way the current runs as long as you pick a convention and stick with it. This is why electrical engineers have never bothered to change the convention. Randall, however, can't get over the fact that the convention runs opposite to how electrons really flow, so much so that he fantasizes about using a time machine to get Benjamin Franklin to fix it. Normal people have moved on with their lives.

And, of course, rather than be annoyed at how pretentious and petty he's being, his fans eat it right up. They, too, are ISTPs and spend their lives wishing they could change conventions to suit their purposes. I must have been the only person in the room who was thinking "Oh my god, is he fucking serious?" when he went on his tangent about punctuation, the rest fully agreed with him. This is another reason that his fans spend their time putting xkcd strips everywhere; if they spread the Word of God, maybe they'll finally rectify some of these minor issues that affect no one.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Comic 723: Waves of Confusion

some kind of earthquake nonsense, i dunno

Holy crap! Another earthquake comic! Luckily, earthquakes are always a source of vast humor, so I don't mind. Also, it's another twitter comic, but I think that's really in bad taste.

GUYS! Did you know that there is a new-fangled type of "internet" which can make information move very quickly? It is true! You can send information at the very speed of light! It is called "the information super-high-way" because things go as fast AS CARS ON A HIGHWAY! so very fast! One implication of this is that it becomes possible to get information about things like the weather, etc, around the world very quickly! EVEN BEFORE THE WEATHER ARRIVES! this has been true for what, 20 years? maybe only 15.

Anyway, i guess the point of this comic is that twitter can be a funny way to watch people react to terrible problems in what is essentially real-time. Would you agree? That's not a pejorative statement - I expect most xkcd fans would agree with it. No?

OK I was sort of lying - I did mean that as an insult at Randall, but only because he did this exact joke before. Exactly. Do I even need to go into detail on this? How about this: if you doubt me, just read that review of comic 574 I linked to, and note how much of it applies here as well. And vice versa! It's like I posted an xkcdsucks post in the past....from the future! spooooooky!

tl, dr: twitter is dumb, everyone knows it

PS did you all notice that xkcd's very own bitchy whiny jerk Rob made another appearance in today's comic? Why yes, "RobM163" is the twittererer mentioned in the final panel. ROB, does your last name start with an M? (yes, it does).

PPS why are they both twittering in the last panel?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

You Wouldn't Admit It Even If You Did Like One!

This one will be brief, because fuck you.

One of the common cuddlefish claims is that we wouldn't admit to liking an XKCD even if it was funny. It varies from "you wouldn't notice even if one was funny," which is fairly uncommon (because most fanboys believe that all XKCD is funny, so they inherently believe we're in denial) to "you'd just lie about it if you liked one."

There's one problem with this: we admit to liking them all the time. It's certainly not frequent (there is a reason we have a hate blog for XKCD, after all), but there are times when there is one that we think is at least moderately okay. I've done it, Carl has done it, most people who comment here regularly have done it.

The "you wouldn't notice" one deals with the problems of bias &c, which I've already written about elsewhere, but, again: if we like some of them clearly that's not true, now is it?

Here's a thought to leave you with: when XKCD was still good, it could have made a comic and most of us here would agree that this one was funny. Now it will get at best a handful of people to say they liked it.

Comic 722: Lights in a Box

Today's comic made me think precisely two thoughts, both rather boring: 1, isn't this just the Simple English Wikipedia joke all over again? and 2, apparently Randall has now lowered his standards below the usual high-school level and is now on four-year-old level.

Luckily, a gentleman by the name of Charlton Cheslewite without even knowing that i had no clue what to write about said this comic inspired just a divine fury in him that he simply must guest write about it. So, here is what he told me:

Computer Problems, yes, but i think it is xkcd's fault and not the computers

When you really think about it, all that happened was a few chemical and electrical processes that were happening a few minutes ago aren't happening any more. I don't see why you would find that so upsetting, officer. Maybe my knife in his chest had something to do with it, maybe it didn't. It was just some chemical and electrical processes anyway.

Oh hey folks. I didn't see you there, staring at your screens of lights. Potentially you might have been interpreting some vibrations using membranes and novel bone structures. I expect that you've already come across this xkcd comic. I often find it somewhat amusing. Not because I think it's funny, but because Carl's day seems like it was made marginally worse by having read it, hoping to find some sort of humor in it. But today it seems to have bothered me more than it bothered Carl.

Look, I don't know Randall Monroe. I probably don't like him, but I don't like most people. This doesn't stop most people from coming up with things that are kind of useful, new, or interesting.

This newest xkcd is none of those things. Firstly, the joke isn't something new or interesting. I've read lots of versions, but I first heard it on play grounds as a child. People would lose a game of kickball, and vindictively announce that it was just a bunch of dorks running around kicking a ball. And they are correct. School was just sitting around in a class, writing stuff or maybe listening. Jobs might just be picking up a phone, muttering things, and putting it down. Everything in the world is able to be reduced to banal and stupid sounding things if you are willing to try hard enough.

Mind you, that only really addresses the first two panels. I've seen some comments on here hoping that the last panel had some hidden message, some additional meaning. Some posters have even come up with ways in which this last panel was secretly where the joke was. But I believe that the simplest solution is the most likely. Randall didn't want to just use two panels and no alt text. So he came up with another panel a some random crap about his cat.

Oh, his cat. What the fuck did his cat have to do with anything? It added nothing to the comic. He really just felt there needed to be an alt text and had drawn a blank. On the other hand, this was my favorite part of the comic. One of my favorite things is having people I dislike telling me about them getting what they deserve. It's right below people I dislike getting what they deserve on the list of things I like, and right above olives. Hearing that Randall's life is so empty that he frequently talks to his cat, who, I assure you, doesn't give a shit, was the best part of the comic.

When I first started reading this comic, I had really hoped that the man just played with lite brites all day. The comic referred to the buttons he pressed, making clear that he wasn't that cool. Likewise, while the world would be better off if he did, we can conclude that Randall isn't that cool either.

Actually, are any of us that cool?