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, March 31, 2014

Facebook Acquisition

Sometimes when a once-in-a-lifetime golden opportunity comes along, you just have to chase it, drop everything, and pursue it as your ultimate dream. That is what happened when I joined Xkcd-sucks in 2011. And while I haven't been here from the very beginning, I have watched Hyphen grow for a blag that averaged only tens of views a day, to one that regularly reaches into the triple figures. And we couldn't have done it without you cuddlefish. We have been on an incredible journey together. And now we are ready to embark on the next stage of that journey.

I am proud to announce that Facebook has decided to purchase us for £5500 million (or just over $9000 billion USD). Xkcd-sucks will become part of the Facebook family. This is a very big day for all of us.

Mark Zuckerberg with our founder, Gamer_2k4, as we sealed the deal

Xkcd-sucks was purchased in the same round of acquisitions that included Oculus VR, a startup that is building the next generation of virtual reality. We don't really have much in common with Oculus, or indeed Facebook for that matter. So naturally the purchase was a perfect match. Confused? Let me explain to you how it works. I won't go into every detail of acquisition process, because it's complicated, but I'll simply it enough for a goy to understand:

Facebook's board of directors all take it in turns to write the names of companies on different segments of a giant coloured wheel. Each of these is a company that Facebook could probably get away with buying if it wanted to. Mark Zuckerberg then spins the Wheel Of Acquisitions, and decides to purchase whatever company the spinner lands on. This method has been used before to purchase Instagram and WhatsApp.

I told you it was complicated.

I later got a phone call from Mark (whom I might add is a nice Jewish boy), telling me that first class flights were waiting to take us Facebook HQ in California. There we hashed out the deal over coffee and matzos. I was the one who negotiated the price.

The conditions of the deal were as follows:
  • Xkcd-sucks to pay all of its profits to Facebook Inc.
  • £7.5 million (about $12 million USD) to be granted annually for the Xkcd-sucks division to keep producing its wonderful content.
  • Gamer_2k4 to join the board of directors at Facebook Inc.
  • Facebook Inc. to assume copyright of all thoughts, ideas and concepts related on this blag.
  • Remaining funds are to be paid to Xkcd-sucks founders in Facebook shares and long term bonds.

FAQ (or what do these changes mean for you)
  • What will happen to the Xkcd-sucks blag?
In short, not a lot. We have struck a deal with the big F that allows us to carry on as pretty much the same company we were before, only with more money :). Facebook sees our potential, and knows better than to mess with a winning formula.
  • Will I be able to keep my anonymity?
Absolutely. Facebook values your privacy, and we all agree that it is something you shouldn't have to think about. You will always be able to post anonymously, but you may notice some new commenting options, such as Wordpress, OpenID, Blogger accounts, and more.
  • Will we get any new features such as Facebook integration?
There are no current plans for integrating with Facebook. However, with Facebook's backing, we might have enough cash to bring back old favourites like Xkcd Forums Bingo, and more. Watch this space!
  • Will there be an Xkcd-sucks page on Facebook?
We are not sure if there is a market for such a product. Facebook will be carrying out market research to  decide whether we will get funded for that. We'll let you know of any developments in that area.
  • Wait, do you even use Facebook at all?
Facebook understands the importance of our relationship with Twitter, and will allow this partnership to continue for the foreseeable future.
  • What will happen to Died in a Blogging Accident?
Facebook will hold the movie rights until a suitable director can be found. Our plans of a July release date for the original text remain unchanged.
  • What does Randall think of this?
He remains in open negotiations with both Apple and Google for the sale of the Xkcd webcomic. At this point a sale is unlikely. He declined to comment on the Xkcd-sucks acquisition.

Gamer_2k4 and Zuck taking a tour of my new office

It's been an amazing three years. Here's to three more! Remember that every cuddlefish made it happen. Let us know what you think of this deal in the comment section below. And don't forget to share your favourite Xkcd-sucks moments.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Comic 1345: You're Wrong

Title: Answers

Alt text: Stanford sleep researcher William Dement said that after 50 years of studying sleep, the only really solid explanation he knows for why we do it is 'because we get sleepy'.

Ah, here we have yet another instance of Randall trying overcome years of patriarchal oppression by having a girl prove that she is smarter than a guy by beating him in a battle of wits and generally making him look like an idiot. This is such a cliche in Xkcd. D-

But what bothers me is not the fact that she's a girl, as much as the complete falsehood of what she's saying.

No, spending a third of our lives asleep does not make us any less curious. That's just something our bodies force us to do. Unless of course she is referring to the fact that we don't know why, in which case... still no.

Let us disregard the fact there a multiple theories on why we need sleep. Let us disregard what we know all animals with conscious minds needing sleep. Let us disregard this io9 article that says that sleep is a necessary process to take out the brain's trash. Also disregard the fact that we can only hunt during the daytime, and every other thing that tells us why we need sleep. Then Megan's argument might start to make sense. F- for failing to think things through.

And the alt text? Just because one scientist is as clueless as Randall, doesn't mean they all are. M-

'Touché' indeed. What a tool. I bet Randall says 'touché' in real-life. R-

A shorter version of this review appears at no-hyphen. And this is really exciting. After a five months absence, is no-hyphen coming back? Who knows. The liveliness of no-hyphen's comment threads were always something I hoped to reproduce. So enjoy that comment thread. But when it has died down, you know where to come to, right?

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Comic 322: Not Being Ironic

Comic title: Pix Plz

Alt text: But one of the regulars in the channel is a girl!

So I don't see the problem this comic. It all depends on how you interpret it. With one interpretation, it's nothing more than a good example of Black Hat being Black Hat. It would be weird if he wasn't behaving this way. Allow me to explain:

Panel 1 sets up a situation where Black Hat is enacting a disproportionate response to a seemingly minor incident. He has already caused property damage. What will the maniac do next?

2nd panel, and Black Hat delivers a tirade about something that he pretends to care about. It's all part of the troll's masquerade. Black Hat doesn't really care about sexism. After all, this is the same guy who was shown just 52 strips later to alienate shy girls with his fake journal. This man has no moral compass. He just wants to troll people.

In panel 3, Black Hat forces the computer user to make a decision that he'll regret, and think that it's his own fault. He must stay off the internet for a year (a most unlikely proposal) and refrain from saying anything remotely sexist (whilst being near-constantly taunted by a hot girl), or else be vilified as a sexist asshole. Check and mate.

Notice how Black Hat finishes him off quickly, rather than playing with his prey a for bit longer. This is obviously not his first victim, or his last.

This is another interpretation however, which casts this comic in a much less favourable light. What if Randall was actually sincere about this comic?

But he wouldn't do that, would he?

If it was coming from any other cartoonist, I'd give it the benefit of the doubt, but this is Randall Patrick Munroe we are talking about. He has a hardon for gender politics (consider the implications of that sentence). If he is saying something about gender equality, of course he bloody well means it.

Allow me to introduce: Randall's submissive-male power fantasy, with nerdy girls.

You rarely see Black Hat as the mouthpiece. That would be bad enough. But Munroe has opted for something even worse. His mouthpiece is actually the 'asshole' in the office chair. Notice how he is sitting and the other two are standing? Clearly he sees himself as the sub here.

If you are familiar with what Randall's 'progressive' opinions, he obviously sees himself as the 'bad' gender, and women as morally superior in every way. It is obvious too how Randall projected all his own insecurities and self-perceived flaws onto the straw man in the computer chair. Notice how the punishment is administered not by Black Hat himself, but be a hot woman, the very object of Randall's derision. Notice how she has a name but never says anything. She is there to be described, not to describe. Notice the somewhat phallic weapon, which she carries at groin height.

The clue is in the alt text. It makes no fucking sense. Why would one of the regulars being a girl even be a problem unless Black Hat told him to stay away from girls on the internet? Black Hat didn't do that. He told him to stay away from the entire internet. This can mean only one thing: there was an earlier version of this comic where Black Hat only banned the guy from speaking to girls on the internet. He later changed this to include a much more harsh punishment, (because damn men to hell, amirite?) but he forgot to change the alt text.

Think about it. Aside from the comedy explanation, it's the only way to rationalise the hypocrisy of: "As someone who likes nerdy girls, I've hired this blonde chick to do my bidding." (in the words of Manacing Banjo)

Also, because I have to give grades: A for the first (unintended) interpretation. F*----- for the real meaning of this comic. I hope I have opened your eyes.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Comic 137: Fuck. That. Punchline.

Comic title: Dreams

Alt text: In Connor's second thesis it is stated 'There is no fate but what we make for ourselves.' Does the routine destroy our creativity or do we lose creativity and fall into the routine? Anyway, who's up for a road trip!

Another one from Xkcd's early days, and it's a wall of text. So I might as well get the easy criticisms out of the... You know what? It's wall-of-text-ness doesn't matter. That wall of text is supposed to look like an angry rant, and it is. Let's move on.

This comic says something that really, really needs to be said. So here goes: A* for the message. This is an attack on the mundane, the normal, the path of least resistance. Most people are overly cautious in their day-to-day lives, refusing to snap out of the same old habits, because it's easy to do nothing, and because of what someone else might think if they broke with societal norms and just did something different.

This is a message that needs to be said more often. It is a message that I live my life by.

And yet, it's badly phrased, like really badly. It repeats itself in several places - "reliving a few days over and over" vs "each day a slight variation on the last". It's sloppy. It's heartfelt, but it falls over itself. The artwork around the text is weak too.

Yet those were only minor blemishes. This comic's defining flaw is the final three words in the final three panels. "Fuck. That. Shit." says Randall, as if what he said before that was somehow too profound and he had to tone it down a notch or twenty.

I get that "Fuck. That. Shit." is said in reference to the first panel's line about a future employer being able to read what someone wrote online. But by this point, the comic is not about that anymore. The angry rant has taken on a life of its own. It has said more about society as a whole than it has about mere online etiquette, and then it is undermined by unnecessary comedy.

It's not just forcing a punchline for the sake of a punchline. He is making this terrible forced punchline seem like the original point of the comic. No. F*.

And because of this edit by a forumite, the punchline sounds like a command to perform scatophillic acts. That is quite an achievement by Xkcdsw, because it somehow manages to make the original comic even worse.

137 is not so much a rough diamond, but rather a diamond smothered in shit. While, the execution is piss-poor (to mix metaphors), the message rings true. And for what it's worth, Randall did revisit this exact theme with the Choices series. And in my opinion he did a much better job of it. I actually saw Choices first, and this one later, so 137 felt like a pale knock-off of that.

Anyway, those Choices comics have said something that really resonated with me, and this comic does at least try to say it: remember your dreams, take risks, and never resign to a typical life.

And for the record, not posting something online because of what a future employer might think about it might just be the stupidest thing in the world. After all, do you really think a risk like that would stop me from posting on Xkcd-sucks?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Comic 404: Review not found

Comic Title:

Alt text:

There is no comic 404. Randall didn't miss an update either. He just skipped from 403 to 405 without saying anything. Now it would be very easy for me give this comic the worst grade ever for not being a comic at all, but that is really not how I feel.

I really like the little bits where Munroe includes a joke where you would not expect there to be a joke. He did that a lot with his alt texts, little jokes in his infographics, and now he does it a lot with his 'What-if' site, so much so that it's at risk of losing its effectiveness.

But that's where the essence of the joke lies. Humour relies on subversion of expectations. If you were expecting someone to make a joke (ever Monday, Wednesday and Friday) then it is very hard for that joke to be funny. In a context where you would not expect a joke, any joke becomes funnier.

This gets a rare A for humour, but an F** for messing up the numbering system such that idiotic forumites just have to point it out every time Xkcd reaches a landmark number. EVERY TIME.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Comic 1336: The Worst Thing to Happen to Transformers since Michael Bay

Title: Transformers

Alt text: A helicopter bursts from a chrysalis and alights on a rock, rotors still damp.

Okay, so maybe the title of this review was a little sensationalist, and I can't think of anything to say about this comic, except that it is bad, and that Mr Munroe should feel bad. But I will, for all your sakes. I promise the next review will be posted in a timelier fashion than this one, but I really wanted my amateur art critique to stay at the top of the page a little while longer.

I give this comic a B+ for standalone value. Anyone who has remotely heard of Transformers will understand it. But that doesn't feel like a plus in this case. At the risk of sounding like a hypocrite, it's almost too easy a joke, aimed at too low a common denominator.

I suppose it is trying to tap into the sense of wonder that someone might feel about the life cycles of butterflies and other metamorphosing organisms. I would give it credit for that, except I for one do not share in that sense of wonder, for I can only see the caterpillar's fabled journey to maturity as the hallmark of a race that exists solely to breed then die, and that is disgusting. 

Therefore I give this comic an F for humour, and an F- for trying to make nature look charming, in all the wrong ways.

Aside from that, the art is passable. C+ for artwork. Someone in the forum thread actually suggested it was a shift in Munroe's art style that conceived this comic. No, dipshit. This only looks different because the most complex thing he draws the rest of the time is a computer keyboard. Grasp harder, idiot. F--- for having the stupidest fans.

This is the first review that I have written while drunk. I have eaten three four custard creams while writing it. If it works, then I might try it again.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Comics 1 and 7: The Style - a Retrospective

Title: Barrel - Part 1

Alt text: Don't we all.

It's been a while. Well I delayed this review in part because I couldn't really think of anything to say about comic 1, except that I do quite like it. It think it's cute. I think the alt text makes it very relatable without having to over-analyse it.

As such, I don't feel comfortable assigning alphabetical grades to this one - it's too different, too unconventional - well except perhaps A++++ for not being a stick figure. Like seriously, that's a breath of fresh air. More on that later.

I find it interesting how the alt text is a rhetorical question, so grammatically it should have a question mark, but doesn't. Whereas Barrel Boy's remark does have a question mark, despite not being phrased as a question. I'm not going to give a negative mark for that, because I feel it adds to the wistful nature of the comic. The child is innately curious about where the sea will take him, so much so that it is even expressed in his punctuation. And we are all like the boy in the barrel, wondering where we're going. That much is such a certainty that it doesn't even need a question mark. Can you see why I like this comic so much?

Xkcd had a lot of potential, and this was a good start. But it was not in fact the first comic. He posted comics for a while on his LiveJournal, and uploaded them to in a different order. As I found out while researching this post. The honour of first Xkcd in fact goes to...

Title: Girl sleeping (Sketch -- 11th grade Spanish class)

Alt text: I don't remember her name at all, but she fell asleep on the floor in front of me.

Posted on 30 September 2005. The next few comics were followed within minutes of this one, but I presume he chose to upload this first because he drew it first.

In hindsight, it seems obvious that this would be the first Xkcd. It's a well-drawn human figure. It even has shading! By the time he drew Barrel Boy, he had already began to simplify the style. However can see that at the time of this sketch, he loved drawing, and cared about detail, right down to the studs on her belt. But we would never see another one like it. By the time he drew his first fully faceless stick figures in comic 24, there was no going back.

It reminds me very much of a the artistic journey taken by a certain other artist. Now, I would otherwise consider Piet Mondrian much too flattering of a comparison for the likes of Randall, but since I was made to study him in secondary school, I hate his guts.

Mondrian and Munroe actually have a lot in common. They both started their careers by experimenting with pictures of actual things like trees. They both dropped the act entirely and moved on to only doing very simple lines and figures, then they both become very widely acclaimed (read: overrated) for it. Their full names are even anagrams of each other!

Before he moved to Paris, Mondrian was painting landscapes like this:

Trees along a river, 1907

Compare it to what he painted in his later years:

Composition no. 10, 1939-42

You see the dates on that second painting? He took three years to paint that. And though I can't speak for you, I would much rather have the first one on my wall. And yet, Mondrian is infinitely more famous for the second kind of painting. You are probably familiar with his style, even if you don't know the artist by name. That is how ubiquitous it is.

But there's no doubt about it. Mondrian would not still be famous today if he had stuck to representational painting. And while I think that early painting is beautiful, the latter one is so much more eye-catching, like a road sign. For similar reasons, I don't think Xkcd would have become the mind-virus that it is today if it didn't have the gimmick of stick figures.

And like Xkcd, you can't get away from it. Piet Mondrian's influence continues to be felt in architecture, product design, fashion, etc. Even Windows 8 has its design roots in The Style. And if you're wondering why I capitalised the last two words of that sentence, it's because the 'De Stijl' art movement he founded literally translates as 'The Style'. With a pretentious name like that, it is not hard to imagine it achieving a pseudo-intellectual following on par with the Xkcd fandom.

According to the Wikipedia caption for the above image, fellow De Stijl artist Theo van Doesburg responded to this painting by "suggesting a link between non-representational works of art and ideals of peace and spirituality." The citation note goes on to explain that he said "it produces a most spiritual impression…the impression of repose: the repose of the soul."

So, yeah.

Regardless of your opinion, minimalism comes in ebbs and flows. And every generation does the opposite of what the previous one does. Right now, the idea that less is more seems to be gaining ground, especially in the last few years of interface designs, but it won't always be. And in my personal opinion, more is more, but then again I am a greedy Jew, so I would say that.

Today, it is stick figures that define Randall Munroe, just as primary colours and perpendicular lines define Mondrian. But Munroe would do well to remember where he came from, for the first comment, the first ever piece of praise he got for an Xkcd comic, was given to the sleeping girl, in all her realistically drawn glory.

The comment was posted no more than 5 hours after comic itself. And I've checked, none of the other comments predate it. The immortal words of the Anonymous poster simply said:

"I'd hit it."

I can't help but wonder what went through Randall's head when he saw that comment, because I know how it feels to post something on the internet, and wait what feels like forever for just one comment. It can either be brilliant or disappointing.

Maybe he was overjoyed by the appreciation. But then again, there is quite a possibility that he was horrified. To think that some creepy stranger on the internet would think sexually about one of his drawings, when to him it was nothing more than an innocent doodle. And then there was the guilt of exposing the image, drawn and uploaded without her consent, to the collective eyes of LiveJournal, or worse.

Perhaps it is on that day that he resolved to go down a Mondrian-like path, eschewing all traces of the real in his work, and representing humans in the purest and simplest way possible, stick figures.

Anon 12:54, what have you done?

I am probably preaching to an audience of one, but I'd be interested to hear what you think about minimalism, and whether the comparison is apt. Or you could just do the usual thing and flame me in the comments below.