XKCD Isn't Funny - #1694 - Phishing Licence

This is really good from a presentation angle. We see the sign which establishes setting and scenario, and the dialogue works with that context to give us the joke. When I complain about a comic using art as window-dressing that doesn't have any impact on the joke, this is a good example of what I'm thinking of as an improvement.

The 3D rendering of the window is a really nice touch. It looks like the kind of place you would go to if you wanted to get a licence. I know I'm being a little silly, but it's just nice to feel like effort went into an XKCD.

Too bad the joke don't make no sense. I'm not 100% on how confirmation of intent to commit crime works, but I'm 99% that this particular situation wouldn't happen. We know it's an official government place if it has the power to arrest people. That means that the person applying has no reason to think what they're doing is illegal. It'd be like going to the DMV and getting arrested for doing your paperwork.

Even if phishing is illegal (which it is), applying for a licence shouldn't be. It's like how vigilante justice is illegal, but trying to become a cop isn't.

I would like to thank Randy for making this comic, though. If he hadn't made it I wouldn't have realized that I habitually misspell "licence" (I kept adding an 's').


XKCD Isn't Funny - #1692 - Man Page & #1693 - Oxidation

I messaged not one, but two friends of mine who know about programming, and neither of them could tell what this was even trying to say. Quoth one (only after reading the explainxkcd page): "it would only be funny to someone who is in serious like, whatever that program was".

Like, there's making a niche joke, and there's making a joke that only people who program Unix can understand. It's needlessly obscure to the point of showing off.

One of Dara O Briain's stand-up movies has him starting the show with a mini-disclaimer about how he won't be making any jokes about Muslims, because "One: I don't know a fucking thing about Muslims. Two: Neither do you." (Ignore the imgur post that comes up if you search that, it's a misquote, watch his actual specials.)

I'm not saying that XKCD should dumb down its material, necessarily. However, given that XKCD is one of the most popular webcomics, I think it would be in everyone's best interest to have something for us common folk to latch onto.

Who the hell would say this? Not that she's trying to defend the car fire, that's the joke, but who would say the word "oxidizing" in any kind of casual conversation? 

The way this comic should have been set up is with a close up of Ponytail's face as she explains the science behind friction or whatever and then goes on to say that fire is just the same forces at a greater intensity (or however actual science would say it). Then in the last panel it would zoom out and two cars are crashed and on fire and she's saying "...so really, this was just going to happen anyway". Funny and educational!

The presentation we're given reads unnaturally, uses visuals as window dressing rather than content, and doesn't even show the actual fire. Lame!


XKCD Isn't Funny - #1691 - Optiminization

I'm a little bit leery about giving props to Randy for this one. I feel like there's been a recent upswing in the number of XKCDs that are presented semi-sarcastically. I think Randy has to have realized that he reuses jokes a lot, so he's started adding a sense of ironic detachment. And that's fine and all, until that becomes the new standard and it just becomes irritating self-awareness.

That said, this particular subversion of the norm starts and ends with the comic in question - no "Wow, I do this a lot" to be found here!

I do think that this comic suffers from what TVTropes calls "Spoiled by the Format". Even if your brain doesn't absorb the whole content of the comic at once, you'll see that the flowchart is a linear line instead of a series of branching choices. I understand that this is a hard thing to avoid, but XKCD plays with the format all the time. Would it have been hard for Randy to make this into a thing where you input your answer to the question and then the punchline pops out? I don't actually know, programming is a mystery to me, let me know if I'm being unreasonable.

In other news, my friend Lachlan, who you may remember from his guest review, started his very own blog! It can be found at myinternetramblingsareunbelievablyselfindulgent.wordpress.com, and if that URL seems like your cup of tea you should go drink it!


XKCD Isn't Funny - #1689 - My Friend Catherine & #1690 - Time-Tracking Software

Mark Prindle fans may or may not remember that one of his chief problems with Guided By Voices was that they'd release every single thing they ever recorded, even if it sucked and no one wanted to hear it and it sucked. I heard six GBV songs about fifty years ago, so I can't verify this assertion, but I am inclined to trust a man who tells me that Ween is good. 

I think a similar point can be made about XKCD. When this comic idea popped into Randall's head, rather thank immediately thinking "Wait, haven't I done this seven times before?" he thought something else that made him think another keyboard substitution joke was a good idea. 

The world does not need an update every time Randall Munroe comes up with a new keyboard substitution. Or, at the very least, the world does not need it in comic form. 

Here's an idea: Randall is a tech type guy, right? So he could probably hook us all up with an official "XKCD Keyboard Substitutions" Chrome extension thing. And every time he's about to make one of these comics, he just updates the extension. Unless making Chrome extensions is actually super hard, in which case I apologize for my unreasonable expectation.

This one actually does not get a full thumbs down from me. It's not a thumbs up, either, though. The Star War, Wikipedia, and Jack And Dane captions all come off as "Hey I'm self consciously quirky!"

Brief bit of navel gazing: Maybe the reason that I personally dislike Randall's self-conscious quirkiness is because I've always been self-conscious of my own behavioral abnormalities, and my self loathing manifests as projection. Then again, people who try to seem unique and special are mostly grating by default, so maybe not.

What makes this comic work (or at least, not totally suck) is the "installing and configuring time-tracking software". I feel like it really does say something deep about this human equation with which we are all afflicted. For lack of a better comparison, it's like how Oedipus tried so hard not to fuck his mom that he ended up fucking his mom - this guy tried to keep himself on task through time-tracking software that he ended up going through his work time.

The thing that ruins my quick stint at being an English major is the aforementioned three 'quirky' slices of the pie chart. Irony is so delicious, don't add sides of broccoli. [Broccoli, in this metaphor, represents the bad parts of this comic]

Also it would have probably have been better to show a guy installing the time software on his computer before showing us the graph, but I basically took that criticism as read.


XKCD Isn't Funny - #1687 - World War III+ & #1688 - Map Age Guide

The problem I have with this type of joke, where a random topic is exaggerated, is that the joke starts and ends at the exaggeration. Yes, I get that that's the point, but nothing is tethering the joke to anything.

You can do Randy's style of exaggeration with almost anything. Fabric patterns: plaid, polka-dots, swastika. Mailing: envelopes, box, tank. Pets; cats, dogs, people. It's almost like satire, except it's satire on completely random topics that don't really have potential for being satired.

If this was actual satire, we would be learning something about something. In Candide, we learn that things aren't perfect and we shouldn't expect them to be (it was more shocking back in 18th-century France). In this comic, there isn't anything like that.

I don't need all my comedy to teach me something, but this way of presenting a joke lends itself best to jokes that are trying to make a point of some kind.

I'm not sure I'm articulating this properly. Feel even more free than usual to let me know if there's something I need to explain better.

While I appreciate the amount of effort that probably went into this, and that he even added fictional maps, I really don't see why this was needed. Unless I'm missing something and part of the joke is how no one needs to know the age of a map.

I feel like it would have been funny if there had been a single-panel buildup where we see Randy talking directly to the reader, saying something like "I know how many of you have trouble with your maps" and then we get the infographic. It'd make the expanse of the infographic into a joke in and of itself.

I would actually be really interested to know his reasoning behind making this, since it will be of pretty much no use to anyone ever. Everyone just uses Google now, you dingus!

Also! I don't know if you heard, but me and Jon Levi (of xkcd-sucks.blogspot.com and DiaBA fame) have started a podcast! It's about webcomics, on occasion, and it's called Panel Beat! Website here, and Twitter here. We're also on iTunes, if that's your speed! Check it out!!!!!!


XKCD Isn't Funny - #1685 - Patch & #1686 - Feel Old

My optimizer uses content-aware inpainting to fill in all the wasted whitespace in the code, repeating the process until it compiles.

I have a friend who has programmed for video games and does art commissions with Photoshop, and he didn't get the joke. This isn't just me not knowing computer stuff, this is Randy failing to sell an idea even to people who have years of experience in the field. (Admittedly not super hardcore experience, like he wasn't on the team that made Deep Blue or anything but still)

The joke, as explained to me by explainxkcd, is that GNU and Photoshop both have a tool called 'Patch'. So if you can't do something in GNU, take a screenshot and change the code text in Photoshop. That joke gets an "...I guess..." reaction from me.

Said joke could probably be depicted better. I'm not even referring to my usual whingeing about how things aren't explained enough, although, yes, this joke isn't explained enough; The picture is just of some random code. The caption could be under the source code for the Google homepage and it wouldn't make a difference.

I think this idea has some actual potential (here is where I get into the whingeing I mentioned earlier), show a guy working on code, getting frustrated, and he starts manually slicing it up in Paint. I still wouldn't find it that funny, but it would make the joke a lot more accessible - especially to the people that the joke is intended to be marketed towards.

'How long are you going to keep this up?' 'Statistically, only four or five more decades.'

So, what does it say about me that I'm reviewing this even though I'm one of those voters?

The title text, for those who can't read it, says "'How long are you going to keep this up?' 'Statistically, only four or five more decades.'" and I have lost any sympathy I had for Randy. This marks, by my count, the third time that he's made a "I do this a lot" noise on one of these 'time is passing' jokes. That is not just shitty, that is arrogantly shitty. That is him admitting that he knows he's in a rut and he's going to keep going anyway. 

In his analysis of the French New Wave, Lewis Criswell summarizes one of the movement's philosophies as "If you don't have anything new to say, why say anything?". (I could have used the entire title of Chumbawamba's The Boy Bands Have Won... as a quote there instead - you're welcome) 

In a way, saying something you've already said before is a way of saying nothing. No matter how many times a band rereleases an album, if they've only ever made the one album, they're only going to have the one album listed on their discography page on Wikipedia. And while the statement made by that album may be worth hearing again, this time in remastered surround sound, the statement still isn't a new one.

Here's where the analogy breaks down: Randy isn't literally putting out the same comic over and over. He's doing it figuratively. What he's doing is closer to what we music folk call 'Garrixing' - ripping off yourself by making several songs that have basically the same progression, direction, point, structure, etc. These songs contribute little to nothing to any conversation that they're a part of and are therefore a net drain on those who consume them. These songs take up consumers time, money, and iPod space, and in return the consumer gets something that they have essentially heard before. 

Now, to be fair, Randy is not selling these individual comics. However, he still makes his living off of the interest generated by them. I find it to be self evident that knowingly reproducing content that you are giving to people that pay your salary is kind of a dick move. 

But even beyond that, by not creating or contributing to any discussions, Randy is stagnating artistically. Doing that knowingly goes beyond just being a dick move. Art is how we learn about ourselves. That's why angsty teenagers quote song lyrics all the time - the philosophies of the lyricist are being transferred into them. When Randy knowingly withholds from creating new art (yes, I'm calling XKCD art), he's not just putting off the next Time, he is removing from the pool of knowledge someone can gain from reading XKCD.

To put it in a slightly less antagonistic way, we've moved beyond Windows 95, right? We placed that brick in the ever-taller building of human progress and we built upon it. What Randy is doing is using the same brick over and over, and even though it may be an incredibly minor brick in the scheme of things, we can do better, damn it. 


XKCD Isn't Funny - #1683 - Digital Data & #1684 - Rainbow

 “If you can read this, congratulations—the archive you’re you're using still knows about the mouseover text”!

I'm probably reading a little too much into it, but this comic struck me as particularly poignant. Maybe it's because I read through my illegally downloaded PFSC archive but the alt-text just hit it home.

Man, I totally read Pictures For Sad Children when it was on the original site, and it had the alt-text still intact. As I write this I'm wearing my favorite shirt, the one that says "Haters gonna make some good points", but I've always kinda wished I got the "Never be sober again" shirt too but now I CAN'T because the store is closed...

I am undoubtedly overly sentimental when it comes to this kind of thing, but still. There's always that difference between viewing it on a tailor made site and flipping through downloaded images. And more and more webpages are going to become accessible only through filesharing as we go on.

The actual humor of this comic isn't anything special, but this is one occasion where I'd say that the thought provoking nature of the comic outweighs the humor. This strip still gets a passing grade, even if it isn't going to make anyone laugh. (Although I do very much enjoy the snark at 9gag's expense)

Listen, in a few thousand years you'll invent a game called 'SimCity' which has a 'disaster' button, and then you'll understand.

I feel like Randy grasps that exaggerating something is supposed to be funny, but doesn't know how to actually form it into a punchline. Or, at the very least, he believes that exaggerating something is funny on its own.

What this comic lacks is direction. It doesn't go anywhere, it just states different slightly wackier versions of a Bible thing. It's like if there was a comic where he made toast, and then green toast, and then purple toast, and then flaming toast. It probably could be funny if we knew why it was happening, but it just doesn't mean anything.

Also, who is this guy that can talk to God but doesn't know what a rainbow is?

Also also, why is God's speech represented by inverted color text? That strikes me as a much eviler vibe than Randy was going for. I'd have put it in a light blue, with maybe some kind of slight echo or blur effect.


XKCD Isn't Funny - #1862 - Bun

I am not going to insult Randy by implying that he actually wrote this comic.

This is a really interesting experiment, having a comic ghostwritten, but only one comic in an extended sequence. It reminds me of those soda taste tests that happened right before Billy Joel wrote "We Didn't Start The Fire", or those science experiments I read about that one time where people tasted food differently when it was under different lights or colored wrong. It's always interesting to be reminded that the majority of our perceptions are affected by how they're framed and presented to us.

Oh! Oh! I thought of two more examples! That one time Gordon Ramsey pretended he'd made something another guy made and that one time that people pretended McNuggets had been organically grown!

It's like how if you heard this instrumental that was kinda crap but it was labeled as a lost Beatles song, you'd give it more of a chance then if you knew it was actually from some random jam band. In the same way, Randy is making people take a second look at this piece of garbage made by some twelve year old who gets all their humor from other twelve year olds on tumblr. Extra points go to Randy for just having the peripubescent write it, letting him do the drawing. If you didn't give Randy any credit at all, you would almost think that he was a miserable enough writer to make this himself.

However, I spotted it right away. While it's obvious I'm not Randall's biggest fan, he's made me laugh in the past, I expect him to do so again, and I know that he would never lower himself to such a level. Because if he did, he would be openly displaying that he doesn't just find it cute but actively funny when people say "bun" instead of "rabbit" or "birb" instead of "bird". Randy would be admitting to us all that he has not progressed as a writer since eighth grade.

So, since this comic wasn't written by Randall, I am not going to be doing my usual full analysis of the 'humor'. It's pretty obvious how empty and contentless this comic is, anyway. I have no doubt that any member of my audience can see for themselves that this comic is cutsy nothing bullshit.


XKCD Isn't Funny - #1680 - Black Hole & #1681 - Laser Products

As a lame pun, I am actually okay with this one. Yeah, it's lame as hell and it'd get groans out of anyone who'd finished Kindergarten if said aloud, but that's what puns are supposed to do!

However, I do see a huuuge missed opportunity in not having the black hole suck them up as they're talking. Just imagine it, they're getting all spaghettification'd, and all their atoms are exploding one by one, but on top of it is that pun. It'd be so perfect.

If you stretch your mind a little, you can say that this comic has a similar problem. This should absolutely not be text-only. The opportunity to depict a hilarious hair printer was handed to Randy on a silver plate, and he threw it away like so much tupperware.

I was about to write that the reviews are super lazily written, but what if this is secretly a brilliant attack on the quality of online reviews - namely, mine!! As proof for this, I posit:
  1. None of the reviews contain any real content. All the evidence is heavily opinionated, with the exception of the review for laser eye surgery. 
  2. There is little to no supporting evidence given for any opinions.
  3. The laser jet surgery reviewer didn't even use the product, even though it sounds awesome.
  4. The review for laser eye removal gives a failing grade for user error. 
  5. None of the ratings are five star, indicating that reviewers will never find anything perfect.
Now, Amazon and other websites of the sort may not be five stars themselves when it comes to the review sections, but even the worst of them have at least a few good reviewers on them. The negative depiction of reviewers is therefore intentional, just to take shots at me, a humble man that has never said or done anything against anyone else.


XKCD Isn't Funny - #1678 - Recent Searches & #1679 - Substitutions 3

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My first reaction, which I think mirrored the first reaction of many long-term XKCD readers, was "Hasn't he done this before?". And then my second reaction was "oh, not really, but the first one was still better".

My finalish reaction, after reading it a few times, is "I get what this joke is probably trying to convey, but the only thing I understand about it is the 'opposite of safe mode' part".

This is totally going to get me one of those "Greg isn't smart enough for XKCD" responses, but I like to think about myself as an average consumer who will probably know about 90% of the references that other average consumers will get. That probably isn't the most honest way to look at Greg Greenwell as A Person, but I think the point stands: I am, in my ignorance, confronting this comic as if I was one of the commoners. (I'm not though, I'm much better than you. I have a blog.)

A close reading reveals two extra jokes that I can understand, but if I weren't reading this comic specifically to review it, I would not have given it that close reading. Whenever I see a big block of text with a bunch of technical looking words, and it's not going to education me, my eyes just slip right over it. My time is valuable, damnit! I can't bother wading through gibberish just to find one or two half-decent jokes! It'd be like watching a Dane Cook comedy routine but two-thirds of it is backmasked.

This I didn't even bother reading twice since it's a joke I've already read and reviewed. Is anyone seriously clamoring for more of this shit? It's so easy to come up with, watch:

Randall → Adolf
Munroe → Hitler
Greg → God
Greenwell → himself
review → describe
XKCD → cancer
funny → worth it
Rob → male feminist
Jon → Jew boy
blog → piss puddle
joke → hate speech