Thursday, September 29, 2011

Comic 957: Preoperational Stage of Humor

[Blah blah Ravenzomg guest post and etc -Ed.]

Hello masses, this is Ravenzomg of Ravenzomg fame here to review the latest XKCD for you all before the latest one comes out! So, as usual, this thread will get to be filled with comments on the NEXT comic, and everyone can act confused/stupid! Hurray.

The excitement is palpable, people.

Title: Development. Tooltip: Funding was quickly restored to the NHC and the APA was taken back off hurricane duty.


Wait. No, that was back in August.

GOOMH, Randall, I've been watching Hurricanes for the past month, too!

Now, as Wikipedia will tell you, sterile void-creatures in sterile void-rooms do not allow us the sterile void-sympathy needed to sterile void-enjoy 'random' 'humour'.

The Onion Makes Me Cry

Well, not really, but it was too good a headline to pass up.

I've been reading The Onion for at least twelve years, and in all that time, I've never once had to say this, but: I think the onion made a mistake.

I should state that I think the Onion routinely has some of the funniest commentary there is on all topics in the news, with, obviously, their issue just after 9/11 as a prime example. I mean, people at the time were literally wondering if anything would ever be funny again. Like, if you saw a dude trip on a banana peel and fall into an open manhole, would you laugh, as you would have in the pre-9/11 world? Or would his paid simply remind you of the suffering of the 3000 dead, countless wounded, and the families who lost loved ones on 9/11, just as this man's family nearly lost him due to lax manhole safety rules?

Obviously our deep evolutionary desire to see others fail meant that this was total poppycock and we continue to laugh at such shenanigans. Because, obviously. Anyway, my point is, that was the context they were in and what did they do? They didn't just give up and skip the issue, or only do articles about other stuff. No, they churned out a brilliant issue full of 9/11 content and it was hilarious then and it is hilarious now. I truly believe that in 50 years this will still be recognized as as the best example of fighting tragedy with laughter that our culture has ever produced.

But that's not my point. My point is they usually have a good sense of these things, and today, I think they - to use a delicate term - fucked up. They fucked up pretty bad.

The chronology is a little complicated but I think I understand the gist of it. It started with this article, Congress Takes Group Of Schoolchildren Hostage. If it seems random, the joke is that people have been using "hostage" metaphors to describe congress's behavior in the last year or so, and so the Onion is taking it literally. The joke is also that Congress is full of horrible criminals. Anyway, they wrote the article, and then, as they have been doing a fair amount recently, they wrote a short follow-up soon afterwards.

Neither article is very funny (especially since the follow-up has a completely different tone from the original article, almost as though the author of the second wrote it without seeing the original), mostly because the majority of the article is about threatening to kill children. Which is sort of funny, but not...ha ha funny. In theory, replacing actual hostage-takers with members of congress (with funny names like "Boehner" and "Roskam") should lead to humor, but the article just has an incredibly violent tone that to me, sucks away any possible humor.

Ordinarily, that wouldn't be enough for a blog post. They Onion has run less-than-stellar articles before. So what they decided to do was to act like the story was real, and "report" it in quasi-real time on twitter. And they try to do it the way an actual news organization would - first with rumors and speculation. So their first tweet is: "
BREAKING: Witnesses reporting screams and gunfire heard inside Capitol building." Obviously, there's no joke here. There's also no link. Of course, most people know that anything preceded by "The Onion" is not going to be true. But what if someone doesn't know that? What if I retweet this and then my doddering old aunt sees it and doesn't know where it came from? A reasonable person wouldn't read that tweet at a joke, because it's not a joke. It's just setting up a later joke.

The next tweet was: "
BREAKING: Capitol building being evacuated. 12 children held hostage by group of armed congressmen. " Here there's a joke - the armed congressmen - but it's, shall we say...subtle. The third tweet in the series links to the article. They ended up sending out 18 tweets on the story, basically narrating in real(ish) time the same story as written in the article.

The whole thing was in particularly bad taste given that a few weeks ago, on the tenth anniversary of 9/11, some folks hacked into the NBC News twitter feed and posted: "
Breaking News! Ground Zero has just been attacked. Flight 5736 has crashed into the site, suspected hijacking. more as the story develops". This was followed by several more posts attempting to make people think that multiple planes had been hijacked and flown into buildings in New York City. In fact, the hacked NBC tweets feel a lot like the Onion ones, though they were actually intended to make people believe an attack had occurred. I only read about the NBC posts a few days later, but I got a very sick feeling imagining what people must have thought who read them when they were posted. Reading the Onion twitter brought the same feeling back.

The reaction to the Onion's shenanigans today was...not kind. For example, the Capitol Police had to issue a statement because too many people thought there was an actual attack on the Capitol. They were not pleased to have to spend their time doing this. Lots of people on Twitter thought the Onion account may have been hacked (not a bad guess, actually) and others hoped it had been, as that would have been better than the Onion actually thinking this was a good idea (I fall into that category). But no, they were not hacked, and in fact, the posts are all still up, and probably will stay that way.

There are a lot of questions here - was this story funny, or over the line, or both? Was the story ok but the twitter too much? Or were they all ok and people are overreacting? I think I've made it pretty clear what I think. But just in case: it was a mistake, a big one. I think they'll catch a lot of flack for it, and people will demand they apologize and take it down. I think I agree. I'm as big a free speech advocate as you'll find, so of course I think they have a right to do what they did and a right to keep it. I have the right to go up to an old lady at a bus stop and call her a d-bag. But that doesn't mean I should.

If I had to guess, I'd say lots of people are going to tell them to take it down, and they won't do it. They'll double down on it and maybe even get self-righteous and talk about how this is the purpose of satire, the voice of the comedian is often the only one telling the truth, people should know this is a joke because the onion is a joke, and we won't admit we made a mistake. So that will, of course, also be a mistake.

What's the harm in taking it down? They'll still be a hilarious publication. I'll still read it every week (what a lie - I read it every day). They aren't politicians, they won't get in trouble if they fuck up. It'll be all out of the way and forgotten within a few weeks at most.

I'm writing this because I think a lot of people will come to defend the Onion on this and accuse those of us who disagree with them of being humorless and crazy and dumb. That's silly. I love the onion, but it's possible for them to fuck up! Sure, they haven't done it before (that I know of) but they did it now. So tell those people they are wrong. The onion is amazing, but it's not perfect.

Sense of Humor Discovered in Blog Posts

Hey Kids, rich uncle carl here, making his once-per-decade trip out to a place with the internet to shout some opinions at you all. So take a minute, get used to the fact that it is I, Carl, not Richard or Robin or Robbo or whatever that guys name is.

Actually, there are two different things I want to write about so I am going to just do two short posts. Why? Why, because I am lovably eccentric that way.

The first is about xkcd! and surprise of the week, it's positive! No, the comic isn't getting better - though it hasn't been gut-wrenchingly horrible, either, it's really just been an incredibly long string of blaaaaah - but I noticed that there were two sorta recent blog posts that were, in fact, funny.

Now they are each about a month old - clearly, I've gotten less vigilant in keeping up with Randall Munroe's public life - and they are each about the pair of natural disasters that hit the east coast around that time. Number one, on earthquakes, and number two, on hurricanes. Now, the earthquake one is mostly self-congratulatory about a comic he made a few years ago regarding the twitters and earthquakes and such. But at the end, there's a great story! It's not a story about Randall or one that he made up, but it's still a great story.

The second link is entirely unoriginal material, and it is hilarious.

My point is this: Long ago, when I was a young idealistic webcomic critic, I always liked to stress the fact that I thought Randall had a pretty good sense of humor. I just don't think that means he can churn out 3 good comics a week (as an aside, I still would love to see if the quality of the comic went up if it became a once a week thing...). "having a good sense of humor" doesn't always mean "being funny." These posts are a good example of that - he's clearly got a good eye for humor. I say: good work.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Comics 955-956: The Giving Randy

955: neutrinos

This comic marks the first time in history Randy has ever released a comic which was relevant to a news item that happened less than 24 hours before its release. This probably explains why he was about three hours late with it. But don't worry, it's still boring! The joke is wishful-thinking "I wish I could find a way to monetarily exploit people who I think are dumb" (since he's already found a way to monetarily exploit people he thinks are brilliant), and self-deceptive "but if it turns out that current thinking is wrong I'll definitely not be one of the people desperately defending the old ways over these new incursions." Lame.

956: sharing

It's been a while since Randy's gone all freetard on us. Thank God he hasn't changed at all and is still incredibly boring about it. I never read the Giving Tree (cue angry cuddlefish telling me that not reading a children's book makes me unqualified to have an opinion on anything, especially XKCD), so can't really comment on that aspect. It makes me wonder if I'm missing something, though: is the point of this comic really nothing more than "if you have DRM which won't enable you to share a file with people, you won't be able to share the file with people?" Nothing that I know about the story seems to suggest that it would be enlightening to have read it

On the plus side, I checked out the Giving Tree Wikipedia article and saw that it had already been Randallized, but by the time I went to edit it to remove the Randallism it had already been removed and protected against further Randallism. We're winning that war, at least.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Comic 954: A Steady Decline

Chin-Up Bar
[Comic title: Chin-up Bar; alt text: Those few who escaped found the emergency cutoff box disabled. The stampede lasted two hours and reached the bottom three times.]

I'm going to break this one down by panel.

Panel 1:Oh man, it's Black Hat Guy!
Panel 2: And oh man he's on an ESCALATOR! Oh man this is going to be so fucking wacky I'm going to SHIT BALLS AND TRIP BRICKS.
Panel 4: Oh that's a chin-up bar! WHAT IS HE DOING WITH IT I MUST KNOW
Panel 5: Ha ha ha, ZING! Not-a-hat-person gets taken down a peg! Or maybe a step, because he's on an escalator? Eh? Eh?
Panel 7: Oh he's still on the escalator but man DOUBLE ZING. Ha ha ha "I'm not a psychologist." Too true, Randy! Who knows why we do anything???
Panel 8: oh man this has been the most epic build-up ever what is he doing is he

UPDATE: btw this is the 666th xkcd sucks post! I know I'm excited.

Comic 953: 10 Things I Hate About Randy

1 to 10

[Comic title: 1 to 10; alt text: If you get an 11/100 on a CS test, but you claim it should be counted as a 'C', they'll probably decide you deserve the upgrade.]
I guess Randy got the memo that on the "stud finder finder" comic, his fanboys were complaining that it wasn't nearly meta enough (though they had faith that there was something super deep that they weren't nearly brilliant enough to comprehend), so he sat down and thought really, really hard about how to make a comic self-referential. He sat down for hours and hours, posting the comic so late that I was pretty sure he was making another poster comic. It could have been something interesting, or at least something that shows that he's willing to put a lot of time into things.

But no. Instead he gives us this. He gives us the same joke as this damn comic, which has been around for ages, but with the added drawback that Megan is for some reason confused about the number four. Despite being a human who speaks English and has learned to count in base ten, she doesn't understand what a four is. Perhaps we are meant to assume she's joking (because she is as quirky as her tits are milky, and will often pretend to do quirky things like be a binary-robot, for laffs (and sexiness))?

The best worst part of this comic, though, is the alt text, which has been full of winners lately. "If you understand binary, you are probably good at computers! They will give you a better grade! lolololololol!" Jesus Christ, Randy, make a goddamn effort, won't you?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Comic 952: The Trouble With Punchlines

stud finder

[Comic title: Stud Finder; alt text: According to every stud finder I've tried to use, my walls contain a rapidly shifting network of hundreds and hundreds of studs.]

Randy has this problem with punchlines. Usually he writes what we have started calling post-punchline dialog, wherein his characters comment on the punchline after it's happened, really stealing the thunder from the moment by letting it drag on too long. Perhaps in response to this, we get this comic.

So, rather than ending the comic one sentence before the punchline, Randy actually prevents Black Hat Guy from actually delivering the punchline--we are left to assume he was about to offer a Stud Finder Finder (I have been unable to find any cuddlefish who disagree on this premise, unfortunately). But he cuts himself off before he actually delivers the joke.

And then--AND THEN!--he still adds the post-punchline dialog. "Your joke is bad and I want you to shut up," he says to himself, which, I mean. That's what we've been saying to you for years, Randy. It's okay to stop.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Comics 950 and 951: Around The World Of Terrible Comics

mystery solved
950. Alt text: The Roanoke Lost Colonists founded Roanoke, the Franklin Expedition reached the Pacific in 2009 when the Northwest Passage opened, and Jimmy Hoffa currently heads the Teamsters Union--he just started going by 'James'.

Every now and then Randy thinks that he is capable of producing humor of the absurd variety: wouldn't it just be WACKY if Amelia Erhart didn't get lost but was actually just flying around the world REALLY SLOWLY? Imagine how funny that would be! And then she'd come back and she'd be all "sup guys I made it" and people would be like "BUT YOU DISAPPEARED" and then because she's a woman she'd be like "lol you are male and therefore too dumb to even appear in the same panel as me! Maybe you should fetch a woman because women are way smarter than guys, whose primary purpose should be protecting ladies on the internet, AMIRITE?"

...I think that one got away from me a bit. The point is: lolrandumb humor is not funny, and it is even less so when Randy does it, because you can tell he's really trying to make it smart, even though it's still nothing more than lolrandumb. I hope this isn't a new trend, because these are extra annoying.

Also, special shout out to "what's that airplane?" as one of the dumbest things any human has ever written, ever.

951. Alt text: And if you drive a typical car more than a mile out of your way for each penny you save on the per-gallon price, it doesn't matter how worthless your time is to you--the gas to get you there and back costs more than you save.

Yet another comic in which Randy uses maths to prove that you're really dumb! How dumb are you? You're so dumb you think that saving money is worthwhile! Don't you know that spending less money is only worthwhile if it pays better than minimum wage? What, you mean you don't have a limitless supply of income from doing no work three times a week? What kind of chump are you?

Apparently in Randy's world, spending NINE WHOLE MINUTES going out of your way to save money is the dumbest thing you can do, because apparently every goddamned second of this life is precious and to spend it doing something like pumping gas is utterly demeaning! You could be out there writing about breast milk on Google + and making shitty chart comics about cancer for your webcomic! Life is too short to waste any time on saving money when you don't have to worry about saving money!

Listen, Randy, you worthless little condescending shit. Some people don't have the luxury of sitting on their ass all day to make a tidy income selling awful t-shirts and posters to awful people who want to identify themselves as fans of your awful comic so they can have awful conversations about your awful comic with your other awful fanboys. Some people "work for less than minimum wage" to save money because otherwise they would not be able to afford what they are buying in the first place--or buying it would make them unable to afford something else they want or need. Some people have to make tough financial decisions. (This to say nothing of the fact that a lot of individual savings--a dollar here, a dollar there--can really add up over time.)

And what kind of a stupid measure of worth-your-timeness is that, anyway? When you spend ten minutes to buy twenty dollars of groceries, you are paying sixty 120 [ha ha ha my bad -Ed.] dollars an hour for the privilege of eating!!! When you tip a dollar for the drink it took you a minute to get you are paying the bartender sixty dollars an hour!!! This is a fundamentally dishonest way of thinking about money, spending, and saving.

And just look at that fucking alt text. "No matter how worthless your time is to you"--as if that's the only reason for someone to spend a little extra time in order to save money. Because your time is worthless to you.

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that Randy is using dubious math and dishonest statistics to prove that some useless aspect of his personality is actually desirable, but there you are.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Comics 948 and 949: Burning Randy

948. Alt text: And they both react poorly to showers.
Randy is jealous of his loser tech friends who have the money and free time to go down to Burning Man, a festival (?) which is populated mostly by sad tech people desperately trying to prove to themselves and others that they are wacky and fun.

file transfer
949. Alt text: Every time you email a file to yourself so you can pull it up on your friend's laptop, Tim Berners-Lee sheds a single tear.
This one has all of Randy's favorite vices in it. Dialog that in no way resembles how a human talks--let's imagine the conversation if we could actually hear what the other person was saying.

Randy: He can email it to--
Fred: It's 25 MB.
Randy: Oh, it's 25 MB? Do either of you have an FTP server?
Fred: No.
Randy: No, right. Well, we could use dropbox--
Fred: Actually he just drove over to my house with a USB drive.
Randy: Oh, he just drove over to your house with a USB drive?

Brilliant! We've also got a wall of text accompanying a completely useless illustration. Thanks for drawing a dude on a phone, Randy! There's NO WAY we could have figured out what was going for otherwise, you paragon of sophistication, you.

Next, Randy seems to think that a 25MB attachment should be a problem for most email services--gmail, at least, has a 25MB limit. Maybe it's slightly above that limit in size, but it would be a lot more compelling if the file size was something that was somehow difficult to deal with. Similarly, his reason for avoiding MegaUpload-style sites is that they're full of porn popups. Randy has consistently demonstrated that he doesn't seem to know that adblock exists--making multiple comics whose original filenames get blocked by adblock, and now acting like porn popups are insurmountable. This is especially odd since Randy brought us this comic. Perhaps he's stopped using it since then? But speaking as someone who has sent and received a lot of files using such services: they work fine, especially if you're only sending one file. AIM file transfers are sometimes flaky but are hardly worth dismissing out of hand.

And of course we have the captioning-something-that-doesn't-need-a-caption, Randy's old trademark. "In case you didn't get it, this was an incredibly nuanced depiction of the problems with sending large files over the internet. I know you were wondering what it was about."

Oh, and I almost forgot the meaningless name-dropping in the alt text! The inventor of the World Wide Web definitely cries when you . . . use web-based email to store a file for easy access on other computers, I guess? Because it wasn't an explicitly intended purpose of the web, even though "storing something for easy access on other computers" seems like it's more or less the entire point of the web? And using something in a way which wasn't explicitly intended is a bad thing which makes its creators weep instead of a clever way to get around some of the problems technology presents?

You're supposed to like these workarounds, Randy.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Comic 947: Randy's School of Investment


[Comic title: Investing; alt text: But Einstein said it was the most powerful force in the universe, and I take all my investment advice from flippant remarks by theoretical physicists making small talk at parties.]

Before we go into this comic, I'd like to point out that this is not the original comic that Randall posted. The number in the original comic was $1279, a number which is apparently in error (I obviously am far too lazy to check this sort of shit). I guess $1219 is the correct number, though. Good thing Randy takes the time to proofread and then inform everyone of his mysterious edits!

Now, the comic itself. It looks like Randy's really upping the sneering disdain for concepts he doesn't understand lately--this is two of the past three comics where he sets up a smugness strawman! This time it's investing. "Investing is dumb," he says. "If instead of investing $1000 you got a job writing a shitty stick figure comic thrice-weekly, you'd have way more money in ten years. I mean, I get a thousand dollars every time I sneeze, and I don't even have to try!"

Those of you who aren't some form of shelf fungus might have noticed that this is a false dichotomy. In Randy Land you can either invest, or you can try to make more money. It's impossible to do both! And since the return on a relatively tiny amount of money over time is also pretty tiny, it's better to just make more money, instead of relying on that whole investing stuff.

I'm not here to advise you on your investing future, of course, but the premise here (investment is dumb) seems rather flawed. Indeed, there is an entire segment of the population which makes its living entirely on investment. It's kind of a thing. Now, far be it from me to question the financial wisdom of Randall Munroe, who was totally a NASA PHYSICIST before he was a t-shirt salesmen, but I think it is worth observing that the ultra-rich, who are ultra-rich and have lots of money, invest.

This comic has, predictably, started plenty of nerd arguments about economics and maths, but none of it is interesting, except for the nerds who seem to think that you can get a guaranteed eight percent return on investments somewhere, which, where do I sign?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Comic 946: Bump My Sticker

family decals

[Comic title: Family Decals; alt text: My decal set has no adults, just a sea of hundreds of the little girl figures closing in around a single cat.]

This comic is so incredibly boring I'm not even going to comment on it, except to make this observation about the art:

It looks as if Randy has spent a great deal of time to make these cars, no doubt working from a photo he himself took. And yet there is something fundamentally off about them. They look acceptable, sure, but it is immediately apparent even at a glance that this is not the work of a talented artist; this is the work of a man who, given ample time, is capable of making something which looks acceptable.

Normally I'd say his gifts lie elsewhere, but unfortunately he hasn't yet demonstrated that he has any gifts to speak of, and like Marlow before me, I hate lies. They smell funny.

[Update: hahaha I linked the comic URL instead of the comic image, MY BAD]
[Further update: IT'S ALL FIXED NOW HAPPY?]