Died in a Blogging Accident has lived up to its name and died... in a blogging accident. That is to say it has concluded. You can still re-live the magic by clicking here to start at chapter 1. For genuine criticism of XKCD, please click the top link to the right (XKCD Isn't Funny).

Monday, August 22, 2011

Comic 941: Perceived Depth

Title: Depth Perception; alt-text: I've looked at clouds from both sides now.

Well, credit to Randall for putting in a good deal of effort this time. The ideas presented are pretty decent ones, the cloud art is exceptional, the glasses diagrams are reasonably well done, and he illustrates the text, instead of just relying on walls and walls of words. Of that, I approve, Randall. Good show.

Now, it's possible that the first and last panels were actual photographs run through a filter. But, the fact that there's doubt (in my mind, anyway) is indeed high praise for the king of the stick figures. I believe he legitimately drew those in colored pencil, and dang if it doesn't look good. Of course, the next question is, if Randall is such an excellent artist, why the heck does he draw stick figure comics? It's just lazy, IMO, but I suppose it's the model that works for him.

Regardless. For the most part, this is a good collection of information. I question some parts of it (which I'll get to later), but overall, it seems alright. However, as you may have noticed, there's no joke. None at all. Now, that's a good deal better than Randall trying to make a joke and failing (which is usually the case), but still, it shouldn't be a comic update. It should go in Randall's (presently imaginary) picto-blag.

For the uninitiated, the picto-blag is a hypothetical section of the xkcd site proposed by Carl "Ugly" Wheeler (the original owner of the original xkcdsucks). It was a proposition that all updates that contain interesting information that Randall's clearly put a good deal of thought and effort into should be consolidated in one blog, rather than taking the place of xkcd. Randall could talk about the concept (because I'm admittedly a little hazy on it) and use these illustrations to go along with it. After all, Randall's not necessarily a dumb guy; he's just not very good at making webcomics.

So much for the picto-blag. However, there are several issues with the strip itself; some are simple disagreements I have with it, and some are odd assumptions (or at least wording) on Randall's part. First of all, yes, it's very hard to get a feel for the true scale of clouds. The difficulty is that there's no "outside-the-box" way to think about them. They're big masses of water vapor, and that's that. Water vapor is water vapor, and it looks the same close up as it does far away.

However, stars are a completely different matter. I tried searching Google Images for some pictures of a clear night sky, but photos simply don't do it justice. If you're out in the middle of nowhere, on a clear night, and you look straight up, the sheer scale of the cosmos envelops you. It's not a painting on a domed ceiling; it's the very definition of infinity, drawing you in until you're lost in its wonder. Why? Because you KNOW that those bright points are planets and suns and perhaps even galaxies. They're not just formless water vapor. There's deep significance to every single point of light, and they're all unimaginably distant. You don't "snap back" until you look at ground. You can't.

The second problem with the strip is the last panel and how it goes against what's being described. Obviously, an improved sense of scale can't be conveyed with a drawing (assuming the technique Randall's describing actually works). But if you're going to try, don't show a guy walking among the clouds! By placing him among them, you ruin the notion of "mountains drifting by." At that point; the clouds aren't mountains; they're suds in an especially soapy bubble bath.

Add to that the fact that no matter how far away the cameras are from each other, they'll never show you what the tops of clouds look like. In other words, the alt-text is meaningless, at least in the context of this strip. The only way to see clouds from both sides is to get above them. Have you done that, Randall? If so, congratulations; you've been in a plane. Welcome to transportation. But of course, that's largely irrelevant to this strip.

Well, look at all that text. Who know that a comic that didn't make me angry could nevertheless cause me to write a 700 word essay? It just goes to show that comics like this can really make you think, and again, credit to Randall for that. Obviously, I had a couple of nitpicks (that's my job, after all), but for the most part, this strip is far and away the best Randall's done in a while. I'm impressed.

P.S. It's worth noting that you DO get a sense of the true scale of clouds when you're flying above and through them, because now the backdrop is the (tiny) landscape below you. Even if you couldn't see that, the fact that clouds are all around you and towering over you even though you're at 35,000 feet is enough to give you pause. If you want to get a feel for how massive clouds truly are, don't hang a smartphone from your glasses. Fly.


  1. Quality of the comic aside, can someone explain to me the apparent demand that every comic attempt to be a funny one? Some of the joke-less comics (including this one) are actually pretty good (and often better than the ones with jokes) and they definitely tend to fit into the theme of "nerdy shit".

    Is it because of the name "comic" also meaning "funny"? Because we've stopped insisting our comic books (and even some web comics) be funny ages ago.

    I guess I'm just kinda confused here.

  2. He doesn't do stuff like those clouds very often because it takes him a long, long time. Just getting those sex poses right took him most of them time he had to prepare the previous comic. He can't do passable artwork with a quota of more than one a fortnight.

  3. The art isn't that good... Is this turd supposed to be a city ? It's also bigger than the mountains to the left, how ironic in a comic that's about trying to improve one's sense of scale. The three little panels about getting a "gummer" (look at it again, it totally says "gummer") of depth are extremely clever though, if you don't mind Randall suddenly turning into Davy Jones.

    P.S : keep up the good work, trolls are fun but there HAS to be actual reviews somewhere for those who actually give a fuck about webcomics.

  4. A... good xkcd comic? Unpossible! There are a few things that could've been done better, though, for instance the stick dude in the last panel should be lying on his back. Also, I have to agree with Anon 2:26. It's refreshing to see a not funny xkcd strip not because it tries to be funny and fails, but because it's not supposed to be funny at all. Remember, Randy has drawn many such strips back when xkcd was still good.

  5. Anon226: We assume this not because Randall HAS to make XKCD a joke-a-day comic, but because he always TRIES to do so. Consider this comic, which would have been making an interesting point in a quirky way, except he felt the need to include a punchline at the end with the "Also, Avoid Radium" bit (which really just soils the whole thing). Go through the archives and most of the recent non-joke comics have a punchline crammed in anyways, which leads us to believe that RANDALL thinks his comic is an always-funny sort of comic, and so we have to judge it as such.

    Also gamer's an unfunny dick who needs to poke holes in everything.

  6. ".....Why? Because you KNOW that those bright points are planets and suns and perhaps even galaxies....."

    Not all of us.

  7. Reading this comic, the thought foremost on my mind was "this would've been cool if he'd actually done it, rather than just made a comic out of the idea".

    Re the review:
    "If you're out in the middle of nowhere, on a clear night, and you look straight up, the sheer scale of the cosmos envelops you."

    I disagree entirely. The more isolated you are (and the darker it is), the more the sky looks like a painting to me.

  8. I don't see how an expanded depth perception of clouds would give you a better sense of their scale, unless the view included other large three-dimensional objects or allowed movement & rotation of the cameras.

    @Sven, my initial assumption was that he did actually do this. But normally he puts these little things on the blog &/or his Google+ account. Nothing on the blog, and few updates on the Google+ account since last I looked at it (when he railed against what he viewed as subtle expressions of misogyny before turning around and posting a photo of a flower that looks like a vagina).

  9. I always believed, at least since I learned this word back in '04 anyway, that an 'abyss' was a vast chasm of deep, immeasurable space and/or a profoundly unfathomable/infinite concept.

    How could one be at the 'bottom' of an abyss? It's non-Euclidean now isn't it? It has no 'dimensions'!

  10. The alt-text is pretty funny, actually. It's a line from a sentimental Joni Mitchell song, probably most well-known to readers who are fans of watching "Love Actually" (starring Emma Thompson!). Of course when Joni Mitchell sings it, the lyric is a metaphor, and it's funny that Randall uses it in such a literal but apt fashion.

  11. @ Anonymous 4:23 PM

    "....(when he railed against what he viewed as subtle expressions of misogyny before turning around and posting a photo of a flower that looks like a vagina)....."

    Did he state that the flower represented/looked like a vagina? Or did you, yourself, 'see' a cunt in the flower?
    Perhaps he just likes the art of Georgia O'Keeffe?

  12. Not stated, but the accompanying photo of somebody's finger delicately pressed into the fold aided my perception of the flower as poon-like.

  13. Perhaps the delicately pressed finger was actually removing the stamens which harbour the 'male' pollen? By doing so, is he not effectively emasculating the flower?
    Is he not expressing overt misanthropy rather than covert misogyny?

    The word 'poon' so so vile. I prefer cunt.

  14. @ALT-F 4:32

    Of course the abyss can be infinite and yet we'd still be at the bottom of it. The abyss continues below us, with just a small break for the rock that we live on. Keep going down and you'll eventually get to more space.

    An abyss of infinite size would logically take up the entire universe.


  15. We are all very impressed by your Wikipedia skizzills, but that the fingering is meant to embellish the visual metaphor is rather obvious--even, as we both know, to you.

  16. Other comics that aren't supposed to be funny tend to have characters and stories. As xkcd does not, it tends to needs jokes to be a comic, rather than a random assemblage of ideas, hence the picto-blag idea for stuff like this.

  17. The variant interpretations of visual metaphoric substitutions - as M.C. Escher demonstrated (after having stolen the concept from the Chavin Cultural sphere - specifically textiles) - leads one to believe that that which is 'obvious' is not necessarily so.


    It is also possible that a person, not altogether unlike myself, could actually possess copious quantities of knowledge in their own head having remembered absolutely everything he or she has ever read. The test of which would necessitate a person to person conversation wherein no access to resources was permitted.
    Not possible on the Internet I reckon.

    @ Jon Levi,

    I'll have to just trust you on that.

  18. Does everyone here realize that they are commenting and critiquing a webcomic on the internet? The only further out of touch you could be is if you did it in real life at a massive convention! Who cares if you don't like a comic, think the artist is an idiot, none of it matters. If you don't like it, just find a new comic.