Sunday, May 3, 2009

Comic 576: Making The Full Case for Randall Munroe's Illustrated Picto-Blog


The thing is, this is an intriguing idea. Might not work well, but it could be fun if you got the details worked out. The top half of this comic, the first four panels - they don't make me or anyone else laugh, but I like them as a concept. It's in the second half - the "put it into practice so we can make a joke" half - that there are problems.

Now I know I often say that certain xkcd comics don't have any joke when there should be one, so I'll at least say that yes, he has tried here to make a joke, and not just present an idea. The issue is that the joke is terrible. There's no reason at all you'd get on a watchlist for those items. A tourist map of the pentagon? If it's made for tourists it's clearly not going to have any of the secret stuff. Lube? Really? You think buying that is something the government cares about? No. You just wanted to stick in a sexual reference for its own sake (just like your alt-text wanted to stick in a reference to a previous, better xkcd for its own sake).

And so we come once again to an idea that we here at xkcdsucks have been mentioning forever: Randall Munroe's Illustrated Picto-Blog. Randall Munroe is an interesting guy. He's not nearly as funny as he thinks he is, or as he used to be, but he has some interesting ideas. At this point, they are the most amusing thing on his webcomic. The problem is that he forced himself to update his webcomic three times a week, and he doesn't have interesting ideas nearly that often.

That's why we have been proposing that Randy shut down xkcd, and start up a blog - a blog that please god you do not promise to update on a pre-specified basis - where he describes all his ideas. He can talk about purely theoretical ideas, or talk about trying to put them into practice, or anything in between. He can illustrate them with little comics or drawings when needed. This would be a great website.

In fact, Randy did something very much like this recently, in his post "A Date Idea Analyzed." That's certainly something he could have put as a comic, ending with the four panels he drew at the bottom. Honestly, if you'd told me that Randy had heard this idea, I would have guessed that he would make it into a comic, so I honestly applaud his restraint there. But so many irritating comics recently could have made interesting posts like this. That one about figuring out where people near you are having sex, that one about making a simulated computer out of rocks, and honestly, even though I hated it at the time, geohashing works for this too.

This blog would have basically the same readership as xkcd, but unlike xkcd, it wouldn't be based on the lie that Randall Munroe is a hilarious dude. I would read this blog. I would like it, too. I suspect a lot of the folks here would like it. And then if he had an idea for a comic, he could post that too, but he won't have to. So hopefully he'll only post when he has something that doesn't suck so hard. We will all be winners here!

I might have to e-mail Randy and ask him if he'll do this. I know he won't listen but I really do think it's the best idea.


Two notes:

There have been a shit ton more comments on this blog recently, mostly of the entirely worthless, irritating nature. Try to ignore those I guess? Also if someone posts as Carl and the word "Carl" isn't a link to my blogger profile, it is an imposter! and you should tar and or feather them immediately.

And with that I am off the xkcd sucks grid for about a week. Jay will be getting started here with the next comic, and probably if the comments are as numerous as they have been recently, I will just have to ignore them all and start again when I get back. I really do read every comment, even if there are way to many to respond to anymore. So be good while I'm gone kids, Jay has my phone number and he will not hesitate to call me if you are acting up again, and you will not like what I do when I get home.


  1. I agree this is an interesting idea. And I'm not saying this to discredit Randy for thinking of it--but I think it's been done before, and better. I don't even remember where I heard it before? I am having conflicting memories about its origins. I couldn't provide a link, and it's possible this was just a concept and not fully realized, but it went something like this: you sign up for a service, say ten dollars a month, and a random, interesting object will be delivered on your doorstep.

    It's all part of a discussion we've had about anti-recommendation engines. Where instead of saying "if you liked this, you'll also like this," it says "so, you seem to buy a lot of X; here is something that is in no way similar to X."

    I'm not sure if the one dollar ebay thing is sufficiently interesting in practice; in theory it could be much more interesting because it's much more random, in that people don't know you are looking for random stuff so you don't have the observer changing the observed, style of thing. But yeah the last four panels were so contrived.

  2. Also guys please ignore the Carl/Rob/Amanda/everyone impersonators, they are not worth your time. They're the types of trolls that just waste everyone's time, instead of the types that it is fun to shout at and call names and use vulgarities on.

  3. You could always just restrict comments to people who bother to authenticate.

  4. Another fuckin' firefly reference. AAAAARRRGGGHH



  6. Regarding Monday's comic:

    I share Ramsey's sentiments. It is insulting to his audience; he has made references to firefly before, and his readership is savvy enough to use Wikipedia or a search engine if they did not get it. Additionally, it is just aesthetically unpleasing. It interrupts the flow of the sentence. Perhaps more importantly, who the fuck speaks in parenthesis? Nobody. There are no air parenthesis to glibly gesture in your daily conversation. It is just really awkward.

    And of course, this is a silly problem. It has been already solved. You need to relay tangential information to the reader in your comic? Gee, it sure is handy somebody came in and invented the editor's note. What's that you say? Somebody created alt-text? That sounds like a wonderful way to stick in useful tidbits without disrupting the actual comic!

    Fun fact: You can stick editor's notes into the alt-text. This is not a new idea. Dr. McNinja does this to comedic effect. XKCD could use this to informative effect.

    Now there is also the issue of the multi-comic story. In general, I do not find xkcd to be good with this format. It lends itself to a mediocre or bad idea being painfully extended. I am already cringing in anticipation of heavy-handed Firefly worship. Yes, it was a neat concept to have a Space Western. Yes, it is lamentable that the show was killed off. This is old. Just as old as any meme that Randall regurgitates to his readership's delight.

    Additional, electric skateboarder = stand-in persona for Randall? Is this some veiled attempt to live out a fantasy of hanging out with the case of Firefly?

  7. Yeah, in this case it's quite clear that the person is supposed to at least resemble Randall, seeing as how Randall is quite gushy about his electric skateboard.

  8. The Anon With No Name...whatMay 3, 2009 at 10:45 PM

    I am wholly unbothered by the Firefly reference itself, yet the fact that he felt the need to point out to readers that Fillion played the LEAD CHARACTER in THE ONE SHOW MOST HEAVILY REFERENCED BY XKCD is enough to make this the most annoying comic he has made.

    So yeah...what Ramsey said.

    Oh, I forgot.


  9. So, uh, Monday's comic is, I am pretty sure, Based On A True Story: (the last note, I believe)

    Only, he's changed the context. Megan (I feel confident in calling her this now, as she is apparently his roommate, THANKS JOURNALISM) is the one tipping him off instead of Daniel Cohen. And she adds a 'Just like you!' which is just a little bit creepy, and then, when he doesn't respond, she panics. 'Did you hear me? RANDALL, I CAN'T BEAR IT WHEN YOU DON'T RESPOND TO ME, YOUR VOICE IS ALL THAT IS KEEPING ME TOGETHER. SAVE ME, RANDALL, ANSWER ME.'

    I am so creeped out by this one.

  10. So Carl decides to take a week off at the same time that Randall decides to do one of his special 5-day series things.

    I'm certain this means Carl = Randy somehow, but I couldn't tell you why.

  11. You know, I liked this post I lot more.

    It's a lot more...I-don't-know-what-er than the usual posts.



  12. @Rob, 10.52: freakin' freak, it's a dismal comic and the best you can do is stretch to make it "creepy romance"? Stretch so far you look like Mr. Freakin' Fantastic? Why not mention the fact it's, y'know, dismal? It says up there (seventh word) and everything.

  13. Oh, I am so totally on this.

  14. I don't know about you, but I follow xkcd because it takes roughly 30 seconds of my time to read the comic plus the 2 minutes to read your critique/bitching.

    A blog about his life would be tl;dr and quite frankly, boring as hell, although I'm sure the regulars would wet their pants at the notion.

  15. So wait, you're CREEPED OUT? Give me a break. I know we've disagreed on creepiness before, but I think this is even worse than before.

    She went to show him something on the internet to which she, knowing his twin obsessions of firefly and electric skateboards, (correctly) expected him to react in some major and over dramatic way. All this comic shows is that she was curious as to why her obsessive roommate wasn't obsessing.

    Not that it would have been weird anyway. If I show someone something, I expect them to at least respond, even if the response was noncommittal or disinterested. That she repeated herself after failing to elicit a response demonstrates nothing except that she expected basic conventions of conversation to be observed.

    I don't see how you made the leap from "The person I'm addressing didn't reply, perhaps I should repeat myself" to "OH NO! MY ENTIRE LIFE HINGES ON THIS CONVERSATION!" Again, I'm inclined to suspect the former rather than the latter.

    Why must everything be creepy?

  16. Ramsey, you speak the machine language of xkcdsucks. Meaning, every other word while processing a new xkcd is "FUCK."

    It would be one thing if Randall simply made Firefly references on the fly and expected his audience to keep up. Pointing out the connection is double-pandering: "Nathan Fillion, from Firefly WHICH I'M SURE YOU LOVE BUT YOU NEVER LOOKED UP THE REAL ACTORS, shall feature in this new story."

    Oh boy I hope he just crosses a bunch of pop culture/political references until the forum buzzes, "Nathan Fillion mind-melding with Spock on a mecha-T-Rex piloted by Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris)? This is the AWESOMEST AWESOME TO EVER AWESOME!"

  17. So Carl decides to take a week off at the same time that Randall decides to do one of his special 5-day series things.

    I'm certain this means Carl = Randy somehow, but I couldn't tell you why.

  18. I don't know guys, maybe you should treat "from Firefly" as more of an honorary epithet, a verbal flourish, if you will. Since his association with Firefly is so significant, it is emphasized as tribute. When Homer calls Odysseus "crafty" for the thirtieth time, people don't storm off shouting "Yeah, I get it! We all know he's crafty! Shut the fuck up!"

    Of course, the analogy is incomplete, since Randall isn't writing epic poetry and doesn't need a mnemonic device. On the other hand, "Nathan Fillion from Firefly" has excellent alliteration.

    But the important thing is that I'm making a positive comparison between Randall Munroe and Homer.

  19. Yeah...

    Obviously the dude she is talking to is into Firefly enough that he'd know who Nate Fillion is, otherwise he wouldn't have that reaction. So it makes not one lick of sense that she'd feel compelled to interject "mal from firefly" in her statement. So it's only there for the benefit of the audience. As everyone else has said, they either ALSO know who he is, or can google it.

    The whole thing just smacks of a desperate attempt to make sure everyone gets the (already weak) joke. Which just completely kills the point. What's next, using a panel or rollover text to explain those semi-obscure math/physics/coder references Randall used to love to make?

    Is that why he's been working in so many tired meme references lately-- because then he doesn't run the risk of people not getting the strip?

  20. Are we surprised at this point when Randall beats us over the head to understand a reference?

    There could be a whole category of such comics to go along with creepy romances, old memes, etc.

  21. Again, we have an instance of Wikipedia defilement.

    "References in Popular Culture

    Fillion is currently the subject of a five day arc of the popular webcomic, in which it is suggested that he is a fan of electric skateboarding[36]."


  22. Carl can you give me and Thomas comment moderating privileges

    Also fuck all of you. It was abysmal and I have nothing to add on that front. It was also creepy as fuck, and not in the standard 'creepy romance' fashion--which I'm usually reasonably okay with, and only describe as creepy as an academic exercise. See, usually the creepy is intended on some level. There's a level of awareness. It's part of the joke. It's usually not very effective, but it's only truly creepy when he's not quite sure he's doing it.

    It really wouldn't be were it not for a few things, a few bits of knowledge that the average reader just won't have--which is the truest definition of creepy. It would just be 'all right, so some girl is telling some dude about electric skateboards.'

    In this case, knowledge of the characters sets off the creepiness factor. It's based on a true story, but in idealized form for his comic. The conversation is just a little too enthusiastic, a little too Randall-oriented. Maybe it was just to remind the readers of Randy's electric skateboard fetish, but it seems so unlikely.

    There's two reasons you share a link with a person: either you share or expect to share an interest with the person, which is the expected case--if you aren't interested in electric skateboards you probably wouldn't be interested in sharing them with an electric skateboard fan. (Note that it's quite possible to like electric skateboards and not have one.) The other reason is you want to please the other person by sharing information appropriate to his interests. This is fairly aberrant behavior--the sort of thing one only does when they are trying to please the person specifically. It's pretty much a "please like me" in every imaginable context.

    The thing is, you don't say "Oh hey he has an electric skateboard just like you!" when you are doing the former. You say "cool, he has an electric skateboard." You don't say "just like you" in a dreamy voice, like it only improves Nathan Fillion's standing as a human being that he also shares some of the great and wonderful Randall Munroe's qualities. There is a very distinct "I admire him even more because he is like Randall, who is the dreamiest" quality to the comic, and Randy is clearly not aware of it.

    To those specifically accusing me of stretching, these were my very first thoughts upon reading the comic! I read it and immediately shuddered at how utterly creeptastic it was. So yeah you are all idiots and should die, in fires.

  23. COVIZAPIBETEFOKYMay 4, 2009 at 3:20 PM

    The first imposter with a link is very uncreative.

    The ones after are even more so.

  24. Because this blog has concentrated my hatred for xkcd, I made some shitty parodies:

    The "My Hobby" ones are the easiest to replicate, because I just have to think of an exceptionally meme-y way to be an asshole.

  25. Rob, thank you for including me in the moderation request. I wouldn't have the heart to shoot down many comments, except for impostors and "eat shit and die"-type sentiments.

    Or maybe you and I would get drunk with power, as time immortal has proven men to do. Let's test fate!

  26. Malethoth: parodying is awesome! You should check out and for the XKCD font.

    Thomas: Either one is fun! ROLL THE DICE PULL THE STRING ETC

  27. How does Carl know this is a 5-part series? It's not on the xkcd site.

  28. Maybe it has something to do with this?

  29. Read the text at the top. "XKCD updates every day this week" or some such

  30. @Rob-

    Maybe those are the only two reasons you share a link with someone, but I think you're being too cynical.

    Is every dollar I give to charity a plea for the bell ringer to "please like me?" Is every time I say "thank you" or hold the elevator for someone or any other act of simple courtesy actually a desperate plea for romantic affection?

    Maybe you think so. But maybe others disagree. Maybe doing something that takes virtually no effort on your part but will improve someone else's day is not so aberrant. Maybe some people are nice.

    Maybe they're NOT nice, and it just makes them feel good about themselves to make others smile. This could be argued any way. Maybe she just likes conversation, and knows that this is something that could spark one. THere are a million reasons.

    But your whole "creepiness" angle depends on the assumption the ONLY reason that anyone would expend the most insignificant amount of effort to brighten another's day--and not even a stranger, but a friend and roommate!--is out of a desperate, pathetic need for affection from that individual above all others.

    I simply don't think that's the case. Some people are decent, and that's not creepy.

  31. Actually, my creepiness angle depends on the assumption that you'd only share a link with someone either because (1) you like it and think they would like it or (2) you want them to like you more, and the assumption that, if you are doing something for the former reason, you are not going to say "just like you!" More broadly, it depends on the fact that if you are sharing a link out of a desire to brighten someone's day, you do not behave in the manner she is--that is pretty sycophantic behavior, indicating that she is doing it because she just thinks Randy is the best ever.

    And it doesn't so much depend on that as that is the best way I have been able to express it. It creeped me out well before I wrote that post--creepy was, in fact, my very first reaction to it. The rest is attempting to capture why that is creepy. As is the case with most creepy things, it's highly context-specific.

    Maybe it's just bad writing, but if so it's bad, creepy writing. This is just not how that exchange goes between normal people. And if he did it right it would be a lot better. Imagine it went like this instead: Randy is in the room reading a book (or, knowing Randy, his Kindle), she is at the computer. "Oh hey, check it out, Nathan Fillion has an electric skateboard, too."

    Beat panel. Randall darts out of the room; ratcheting sounds happen etc. Roommate looks confused. He returns. "Give me the computer. I need to book a flight."

    The comic rewritten without being creepy and terrifying! PROBLEM SOLVED.

  32. OK then. Just as long as you're not unilaterally complaining that it must be creepy for you decree it to be so, that's fine. I don't share your context, so as you say I don't find it creepy.

    Captcha is 'tringlo', which sounds like a processed cheese product. "TRINGLOs contain 5% of your Recommended Calcium Allowance!"

  33. Okay I have been gone for like a week and have not read all the comments or posts at all (my inbox is like exploding) but are there really Amanda impersonators?

    Because that is awesome.

  34. i rather liked it...