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).

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Comic 21: Science joke. You should probably just move along.

This review is dedicated to the one guy who follows this blog on Feedspot. You know who you are...

It's been a while since I've reviewed a classic. And the comic requested by Anon 12:27 is even older than Xkcd itself (the first 50 or so comics were posted on forums before Randall moved them to their own site).

Comic title: Kepler
Alt text: Science joke. You should probably just move along.

Yes, it actually says that.

And I think this is indicative of an earlier, more self-conscious, Randall. He knew his jokes were esoteric and geeky. And he accepted that as one of his flaws. B for self-consciousness. Now that he is surrounded by his echo chamber of fans, he falsely recognises it as a strength. If you don't understand the joke, then you aren't a true fan.

I'm going to step forward and confess that I don't understand the joke here. I have been skim-reading the Wikipedia article on Johannes Kepler, and I still don't understand the joke. I did learn a few things about Kepler, such as the fact that he developed new theories on planetary motion, and developed a platonic solid model of the solar system. So that's neat, right? Xkcd has caused me to learn something.

Wrong! I should not have to do research to understand a punchline, ever. Now don't get me wrong. I am scientifically curious, and I subscribe to a lot of educational Youtube channels. But I enjoy that knowledge for its own sake, not because some self-important nerd-god told me to learn it.

Let's use an analogy here. If your parents punish you by forcing you to read a boring textbook, and that textbook ends up being quite interesting, then it is to the credit of the people who wrote that book. In this analogy, the textbook is Wikipedia, and Randall is my dad.

So the few facts I learned about Johannes Kepler are to the credit of the anonymous volunteers who write Wikipedia, not to the shmendrik who sent me there in the first place. I would give him a grade at this point for standalone value, but it's become a dead horse at this point, so I'll just give him U for Ungradable (the bottom mark in British exams).

Nevertheless, there seems to be a widely held opinion among webcomic fans:
The added bonus, for me, is that looking up new information like that is just as enjoyable as reading the strip itself.
~ Aaron Diaz, author of Dresden Codak

Let me just say that I disagree. But what's the alternative you say? We only make lowest-common-denominator jokes about farts and reality television? No. I say the context of the joke should explain the idea of the thing it is about.

To difficult you say? Feh! Here is an example of an Xkcd that does it right. Yes, the 'sudo make me a sandwich' one. Who here can honestly say this one is difficult to understand? It is obvious from the context that sudo is a command that forces something to obey you, probably a piece of computer jargon that overrides all settings to give you admin permissions for that action. And the best part is that it was all conveyed in four lines of dialog. And I should point out that if you wanted to find out more about what sudo does, then you are free to do so.

I had to go to explainxkcd to find the actual meaning of comic 21, and it was a disappointment.
According to Kepler's Second Law, "A line joining a planet and the Sun sweeps out equal areas during equal intervals of time." This looks like wiping a wipe on the floor. 
In the comic, the janitor Kepler also sweeps the same area, although in this case "area" is used in the sense of "surface" (of floor) rather than in the purely mathematical sense.
Really? It's not even the same meaning of the word area. Is that supposed to be a pun? Well it sucks. F for humour.

Also, why the fuck did he draw all these early Xkcds on squared paper? Did they not have plain paper at NASA? F- for lack of effort. See me after class.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Comic 1314: Condescending Stranger

This review is dedicated to Anon 9:11 in the previous comment thread, who requested it.

Comic title: Photos

Alt text: I hate when people take photos of their meal instead of eating it, because there's nothing I love more than the sound of other people chewing.

Oy, I knew we were in for a rough ride when we saw White Hat in the first panel. When did we see this figure in a comic where he wasn't playing a strawman? And I use the word 'figure' instead of 'character' because he is not a character, despite some people's claims that he is.

Let's have a show of hands here (sound off in the comments section if you like) - who thinks Xkcd has characters, in the sense that The Simpsons has characters?

If you said yes, then you must agree to the implication that White Hat in 1314 is the same White Hat who appeared in 915 and 973. And what is his defining trait in all of these? He is a self-righteous asshole, a snob with opinions, or at least he is portrayed that way. He is the example that you, the audience are not supposed to follow. White Hat's character concept was never supposed to be anything more than a strawman, and so the writing suffers for it.

Good writing is supposed to tell a story, not to tell people what to do. In the words of author Philip Pullman: "Thou Shalt Not is soon forgotten, but Once Upon a Time is forever." He would do well to follow his own words, given that The Amber Spyglass was basically a religious flame-war in book form. But our Mr Munroe has probably never even heard of words to that effect.

Let me say right now that I largely agree with the message being spoken in this comic. I find it does take away from the moment to faff around with exposure settings when you just want to enjoy a pretty sight for what it is, but the payoff is that you get to keep a record of it forever. I get that, and yet the comic rubs me the wrong way because it's being preachy. Somehow, the hatless man comes across as the bigger asshole here. He has unwittingly become the very thing that he is fighting, the condescending stranger, the schmuck with opinions.

But why should you listen to me? I am, after all, a schmuck with opinions.

Obligatory grades: B for the artwork in the first panel. D- for the artwork in every other panel. F* for wall of text. F*** for the preachiness. DETENTION for Gizmodo repost.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Comic 1308: So this is Christmas

Alt text: Merry Christmas from xkcd!

You ever played one of those dumb little maze games? You know, this sort of thing:

This is the comic equivalent of that. The challenge is easy. And the reward is not even worth considering. The only reward for the maze is the fact that both exists are now connected by an unbroken line of pencil (or pen, if you dare). The reward for this comic is that you know it's a picture of people sitting around a fire at Christmas.

As such, I'm going to give it a B for standalone value. You'd have to be very ignorant of the properties of electromagnetic radiation to not realise that they are the light spectra of a log fire and the lights on a Christmas tree (on the left and right respectively).

Not exactly revolutionary. I'd much rather this be a comic where Beret guy is having an good old fashioned Christmas argument with the two other people in the comic, who I presume are his parents. That would be entertaining at least. The only thing original about this comic is the way the message is obfuscated by some faux-nerdy scribbles.

But let's play devil's advocate for a second. The fact that you can see a Christmas scene even though there isn't one there is kind of neat, right? Right?? In the immortal words of Luggage: "Somehow, I feel that this is the strongest xkcd yet. It's in my head." And I must agree that there is value in art that requires a little bit of interpretation.

This is not that. This actually reminds me of something Randall said a while back...

"Communicating badly and acting smug when you're misunderstood is not cleverness."

F* for hypocrisy. Please cut off your own arm before you think of writing another comic like that.

Thank you Anon 6:54 for requesting a review of this comic. I have decided I would like to do more of this, so here's how it's going to work in the future:

The first commenter (OMG FIRST!) gets to choose the comic for the next review. It can be any comic number, as long as I haven't reviewed it before. I cannot guarantee the review will be negative, nor can I guarantee any sort of schedule. Oh, and any further requests will be ignored until I post that review, lest the comments end up looking like the comments section on Epic Rap Battles.