2018-02-10

XKCD Isn't Funny - #1948 - Campaign Fundraising Emails


I understand that mimicking the Gmail format is part of the joke, but I've been conditioned over the years to not even read the bold parts unless I'm looking for something in particular. I look at this comic and my eyes just glaze over. It's just a big wall of text, the kind that I read comics to procrastinate having to interact with in the first place!

Aside from the GODAWFUL choice of presentation, the comic is eh. Not actually terrible, but not anything above a D+. I really, really like the idea of a Nigerian Prince sending out a campaign email, but it's just one disconnected line that's not even lead up to. A few other lines aren't bad - 'Doom' and 'Outrageous' are pretty good - but overall things just fall flat. 'Wow', the second subjectless one, and 'They say we can't win' are just uninspired and kill any potential momentum to the overall joke-flow.

And another thing, why is this coming out now? I understand that there are elections going on all the time, but it's not really campaigning season. This really seems like a comic that would be best deployed when the campaign cycle is in a fuller swing. Not that jokes have to be topical, but still, it's weird.

Also for the record I do know that there have been a few campaign ads released but 1. most of those were during the Super Bowl, which was after this comic came out and 2. they were for losers nobody cares about. Sorry to Jonathan Lamb if you're reading this but your name is stupid and you're not gonna be president.

2018-01-24

XKCD Could Be Improved Somewhat - #1945 - Paper Graph Quality


Hey, XKCD finally reached the "WWII" milestone! We've just killed Hitler! Wooo!!!

Speaking of things to be happy about, I don't hate this one! As always I'm obligated to point out his hypocrisy in failing to give labels to the axises, and graph jokes are always a little bit lazy, but c'mon have you SEEN Nintendo's 2003 E3 presentation? This is something that deserves to be mocked.

Now obviously this would be better with some visual accompaniment. However, I came up with a simple fix that brings this comic from 'passable' to 'brilliant', without any visuals at all. First, shrink down the 'era' marker to the mid-2000s, it's more accurate. The line should still be rising up toward the end. Then, right at the end of that era, have a marker that says "web cartoonists discover graph jokes", and the line goes down again. It'd be AMAZING.

Pedants may say that webcartoons don't count as scientific papers, but I'll have you know that I go to college and -I swear this is true- I've seen XKCD chart comics as part of official class lessons no less than THREE TIMES. So stick that in your [noun] and [verb] it, pedants!

Oh, and the line should go down directly after the 'PowerPoint/MS Paint Era' thing begins, not before. And the line should be a more rapid decline, like the inverse of this:


It makes the correlation, and by extension, the comic, clearer and therefore funnier. 

In conclusion, I'm looking forward to the Cold War over the course of the next few strips. Если вы потратили время, чтобы перевести это, я люблю вас, comrades!

2018-01-01

XKCD Isn't Funny - #1936 - Desert Golfing


Happy New Year, everybody! And speaking of years, XKCD finally has enough comics that if each one was a year, we'd be in WWII! Just in time for WWIII!!! Heh heh heh nahhh forreal though good on Randy for making enough of these that by the end of the year he'll have hit the current year in strip number count.

I am a fan of the old "that was a year ago!" etc -type jokes, since I'm a fan of dad jokes in general. Unfortunately, I think that the presentation kinda obscures the joke.

The first three panels should be shrunk down, to at least half their size, probably a third. We just need to see that the guy is playing the game from before the new years midnight to after new years midnight. Drawing it out over three full panels makes the reader focus on the game, which is the least important part of the comic from a humor standpoint. Especially with the double name-drop, in the dialogue and the title, it makes the comic come off like an ad.

One sec, I'll do a quick mockup to show how I think the formatting could have been done better:


Now I know you're all in awe of my amazing image editing skills, but hold that for a moment. You see how speeding up the setup makes the punchline seem better? (Whether or not the punchline itself is funny is irrelevant to this particular point)

The added countdown in panel 2 also adds some missing context. (I'd have written out 'Happy New Year' but I don't have the humor sans font downloaded.) We all understand it now, 'cause of it being the new year and all, but in five weeks someone who's only just now seeing the comic will see it unmoored from time, and they'll be all confused and stuff (until the last panel but they'll still have to do like a double-take thingy)


Oh yeah, I almost forgot: apparently the iTunes paypal gift card thing doesn't work for all countries, so I'm doing an Amazon gift card this time, and the code is "JJM5-RDB63J-Y3AB". I thiiiink that will work, as long as you use the "amazon.com" address instead of .co.uk or .fr or .etc. Regardless, I hope you all had a good New Year's Eve, and that you have a good 2018. <3

2017-12-24

XKCD Is Good Sometimes - #1928 - Seven Years


If I was a total pedantic asshole, I might be tempted to make some kind of semi-joke review about how this comic isn't funny. And that's like, technically true, but Futurama had "The Luck Of The Fryrish", The Simpsons had "Lisa's Substitute", XKCD can have "Seven Years".

I'm aware as I write this that I don't have the exact right words for it, but there's a phrase that I've come up with to describe things like this, and it's "This thing has stuff in it.". Like, Mulholland Dr. has stuff in it. 2001 has stuff in it. Finnegans Wake has probably too much stuff in it. (This blog, I hope, has some stuff in it somewhere.)

What I mean by "has stuff in it" is something between "This work of art* conveys an idea in a way that is arguably more impactful than if it was outright said." and "This work of art conveys an idea that is at best difficult to put into words.", with maybe a splash of "This work of art teaches the viewer something.". It's kinda like how impressionistic paintings don't make sense up close, element-for-element, but if you back away the seperate elements combine and it's a picture of a swan. Except the elements might make sense and instead of a picture it's a sense of dread or joy or amusement. I know I'm not doing the best job at explaining this concept I have, but keep in mind I'm trying to get across an idea about "Art", that thing that after thousands of years of argument been best described by the phrase "Art is what artists do" or, if you like, "Art defines itself". It's something like 'montage' or 'juxtaposition' or 'the way that music can make a scene seem more important' but on a larger scale, one step up on the rung. Basically like, 'can a liberal arts student overanalyze it in a paper?', and 'was the art intentionally made in a way that it could be analyzed in such a way?'.

So, if all that made sense beyond my own pretensions, here's why I think that this comic has stuff in it.

Y'know, putting aside the obvious actual emotions that went into this comic (emotions are usually a form of stuff), it's just a well-done depiction of a situation that I hope I'm never placed in. I have a friend who had a brief AIDS scare, and I couldn't fuckin sleep, man. That lasted for less than a week before the test came back negative. Cancer is a scary scary thing and it's bad and it has lasted as a feature in Randall's life for (as the title says) seven years. I had trouble dealing with the possibility of something similar for less than seven days. It's easy for you or me to semi-jokingly quote "Fuck cancer" or to look at panel six and call it maybe a little blunt or poorly done, but to quote Mark Prindle:
The mental torment is real. When your life falls apart, it's difficult to (a) envision how you could possibly build a new one in its place, and (b) muster up the strength and energy to actually do so. [...] I can vouch for the fact that when one considers one's life and art to be intertwined, one can only work through the pain by using it as inspiration -- even if that means displaying your failings to the world in all their unpleasance and embarrassingness.
The message of this comic is not necessarily a new one - I thought of Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind and Grave Of The Fireflies** after reading it - but it is the first time I've seen the message made from such a personal experience. And for the record, it's a good message, and it's a message that's hard to remember in trying times. And the personal experience related does make the delivery more powerful, although I'm aware that to analyze what is essentially just Randall's life as if it were only a story is to belittle it slightly.

The message, at least by my reading, is hard for me to put into words, and I hope it's understandable that again, it's because these are Big Concepts. Yknow, like real respected philosopher people talk about. I don't want to further belittle this incredibly good, well-meaning, if-you-make-fun-of-it-you're-an-asshole comic by trying to inject my personal ideas or politics into it either.

By putting the scenes of vacations and recreation against the more dramatic scenes, Randall forces us to reconcile them together. We get a 'fun' panel as number three, which is really quick. It's almost jarring, especially if you follow XKCD and already know what's happening. And then in panel five, we get a 'cancer' panel and a 'fun' panel at the same time, yknow, for a given value of 'fun'. We, as viewers, are forced to figure out how someone can enjoy parts of their life and do things when their wife is suffering from cancer... which is exactly what Randall had to figure out. By continuing this pattern, Randall hammers home the need for humor, levity, and fun when dealing with a stressful situation. Because the alternative is an absence of those things, just sorrow all the time. And that's no way to live or to die.

In the last panel, I think the message maybe shifts to be a little bit more broad, at least by how I'm reading it. We have to enjoy the time we have while we have it. We are all going to die, and it's better to die with happy memories than with sad ones. As one of only three 'state rock song's goes:
"Do you realize that everyone you know someday will die? And instead of saying all of your goodbyes, let them know you realize that life goes fast, it's hard to make the good things last..."
And as the aforementioned Eternal Sunshine goes:
Clementine: "This is it, Joel. It's gonna be gone soon."
Joel: "I know."
Clementine: "What do we do?"
Joel: "Enjoy it."***
And, from a short story that some will think I'm quoting ironically or as a joke but I'm really not:
"It's like summer," he said. "We know it won't last forever. We know one day the leaves will fall from the trees and winter will come. I could spend my life worrying about the coming winter or I could enjoy every precious day of sunshine. I can walk. I can talk. I can think. It's still summer and I want to savour every last day."
And that message/idea maybe needs a handful of asterisks for people in different kinds of situations, and for a whole thing about hedonism & escapism and productivity & devaluing a person down to their labor, etc; but let's not get into that cause that's a whole other thing.

If I had to make a criticism, the solar eclipse panel could have maybe been more detailed and artsy, yknow, to bring across the beauty of it, but like everything else I could complain about, it's just a nitpick. This is essentially a perfect comic that is not only engaging on both the visual and storytelling levels, but also important and good and full of stuff. And even if you disagree with the message, the presentation, etc; you have to at least respect Randall's willingness to put his life out here, and to put as much thought and work into it as he did.


*Yes I'm calling this XKCD art. XKCD has been art before and it will be art again.
**I've never seen Grave Of The Fireflies.
***Included in the script, but not the actual movie, is an extra bit said by Joel that continues from the last line given: "Say goodbye."

2017-11-30

A note on Questionable Content - #3617 - Laying Down The Law


EDIT: So apparently I completely missed the commentary thing there at the bottom saying "if you take the I-90 to Boston anyway", so please enjoy the review thingy in the context of me blatantly missing a key part of the comic. 

This thing is totally not a legitimate criticism, it's entirely a nitpick and nothing else, but I think it's fun. EDIT: FUN TO NOT HAVE A SINGLE PERSON PROOFREAD MY POSTS

Questionable Content canonically takes place in Northampton, Massachusetts. By using FreeMapTools.com's "Radius Around Point" tool, we can see that 106 miles from Northampton is well past the coastline. The radius line actually extends through most of Long Island Sound and part of Long Island proper to the Atlantic Ocean. Even if we say that Long Island Sound isn't really the ocean (I wouldn't), 106 miles still puts us 20 miles deep into the Massachusetts Bay. EDIT: UNLESS, LIKE JEPH JACQUES, YOU FACTOR IN ROADS AND SHIT.

There are a few different explanations for this, and I'll go from least to most interesting. EDIT: ALL OF WHICH MAKE FAIL TO TAKE INTO ACCOUNT THE EXPLANATION THE COMIC STRAIGHT UP GIVES US.

(Option zero is that Hannelore was just misinformed or Jeph Jacques just picked a right-sounding number or something etc. Boring!)

Option one is that Hannelore, normally fastidious and precise as we saw a few comics ago, is thrown off her game by Tilly. This is possibly the first sign of the long-foreshadowed breakdown. EDIT: OR A SIGN OF MY HAVING ZERO READING ABILITY

If we assume Hannelore is correct, we can put this together with the fact that Questionable Content takes place in a fictionalized version of our world (yknow, with the robots and all). So option two is that the Earth's continents are differently shaped on QC!Earth. This could mean slightly different cultures, which would have resulted from the differently placed hunter-gatherer societies that tended to cluster near water during early societal development. We can perhaps assume that this is what has led to the other changes in Questionable Content, such as the further scientific advancement and the general embracing of progressivism and all that good stuff. EDIT: OR THE EARTH IS THE SAME AND JEPH HAS A GENERAL EMBRACING OF KNOWING HOW TO USE MAPS.

Option three (and here's where it gets fun) is that in the universe of Questionable Content, science is so advanced that humans have been able to reverse the effects of global warming, resulting in the ocean levels actually going down as the water goes back into the ice caps. This would expand the continents. How hard can it be when we have functional brain-scanning, AI, holograms, and high level space stations? (also anyone who's planning on correcting me on how global warming works: physics are also different in QC its just not explicitly stated so there) EDIT: IN OUR CURRENT WORLD WE HAVE GOOGLE MAPS, AN AMAZING TECHNOLOGY I FORGOT EXISTED.

Option four: Hannelore's dad is a mad scientist who does the evil laugh thing and goes off his medication. He has a space station, with lasers in it. Her mom is an evil controlling businesswoman lady person. If we put these two things together, is it unreasonable to assume that a giant space laser vaporized part of the ocean, or a giant machine terraformed the land? Is that not what would automatically happen as a result of evil business combining with mad science? EDIT: IF YOU COMBINE PRETENSION WITH NO READING SKILLS, YOU GET THIS REVIEW.

Option five: Consider, for a moment, politics. The average American, in my experience, does not talk about international conflicts* a lot. (And I live in Rhode Island! That's the world capital of angry, ineffective politics!) We have in-comic confirmation that wars are being fought in QC land, but not a lot about discussion about who's fighting who. Could a war be being fought on American soil that just happens to not be talked about since everyone's used to it? If we consider this, with the implication that some kind of bomb has been dropped near or off the coast of New York, (causing the new coastline) Questionable Content suddenly gets good! The boring slice of life 'happy relationship and nothing else' stuff is people desperately seeking meaning and intimacy in perilous times. The forced wacky humor is forced wacky humor because there is no real humor because of WAR. In every Questionable Content from now on, put a big ol' 'threat of war' filter over the entire thing. EDIT: IN EVERY REVIEW I WRITE FROM NOW ON, PUT A BIG OL' 'CAN'T FUCKIN READ' OVER THE ENTIRE THING.

Also, I know Jeph wouldn't read past the title of this blog (and really, can you blame him?) but wouldn't it be hilarious if in a week there was an offhand dialogue like "It's neat how we all moved to another city named Northampton (which is exactly 106 miles away from the shore) all at once and just didn't talk about it"? just to spite me? EDIT: YKNOW WHAT WOULD BE EVEN FUNNIER? IF HE OFFHANDEDLY EXPLAINED MY CONFUSION IN THE COMIC I WAS TALKING ABOUT.

Also also, it's been a whole week since the phrase "Now what am I going to do with you?" was used by a taller character talking directly to a shorter character. From what I can tell, not one person has used this as the basis for rule34 of any sort. It's criminal, I tell you, criminal! EDIT: MUCH LIKE FAILING TO READ THE FUCKING COMIC WHEN REVIEWING IT.


*(numbers at time of writing for America are 7 direct interventions with ~800 bases in other countries, just if you were wondering) EDIT: NUMBERS FOR THIS BLOG AT TIME OF WRITING ARE ZERO GOOD REVIEWS WITH AT MOST SEVEN UNIMPRESSED FANS THANKS AND GOD BLESS.

2017-10-15

XKCD Could Be Improved Somewhat - #1902 - State Borders


Actually, the way to fix boarders would be to eliminate them entirely. Smash the state!!

Best, Karl Marx

I'm okay with this one! It's a good concept for a comic, especially since I think we've all had that thought about the bump on top of Missouri or Alaska's tail. Rhode Island doesn't need to be bigger, though, just saying, size doesn't matter.

The problem with this joke, which isn't a big problem but it is still a problem, is the empty space. Traditionally, this kind of joke relies on there being a lot of things to laugh at, so even if one isn't that funny, you can laugh at another. With this map, there are nine whole states that aren't touched at all, and more that are only touched a little bit. There's definitely more that could be fixed, like for instance, the ugly Idaho-Montana boarder.

It seems kinda weird to me that there'd be that "good curve! keep." line off of Georgia, but no other comments on the coastlines, when getting mad at coastlines is inherently funnier than getting mad at man-made social-construct boarders. Plus, there's plenty of design-flaw material there, like how the fourth island of Hawaii should be brought into the curve established by the first three islands.

There's also just a little missed opportunity about the plot. Wouldn't it have been fun to see the graphic designers about to unveil their list of demands, and everyone's all scared there's gonna be fascism (cause fascism's bad), but then they reveal the map and we hear the crowd's reaction like "...oh, that's not so bad." / "Finally, someone's focusing on the real issues!" / etc. That could just be me, though. What do YOU think???

In conclusion, I looked it up, and it turns out that Missouri's bump was actually the result of an incorrectly plotted map, so we can all blame John Mitchell.

2017-09-20

XKCD Isn't Funny - #1887 - Two Down, One To Go


When I first read this I thought this was in reference to some sci-fi book I'd never read. Like in the book these three things all happen and it's a sign of the apocalypse. (The fact that the aurora happens more than once a year did 100% slip my mind, and you are free to mock me for this fact in the comments) I didn't wanna do that kinda review again where I have to rely on explainxkcd to make sure I'm getting my facts right about the referenced thing I've never read.

See, back in middle school, I was taught to always label my graphs. Reading a graph is supposed to be intuitive, we shouldn't have to infer anything. Without a label on the y-axis, all we know is that these things have happened in some way. We have to read the alt-text to realize that Randy is just talking about stuff he's seen.

And that is just TERRIBLE. This comic is only valuable in any way to people who've become deeply invested in Randy as a person, and even then it's barely worth mentioning. As anon pointed out, the comic is just listing two things he's done. And yeah, both of those phenomena are kinda cool, and I'm a little be envious of Randy for getting to see them both, but is that really material for a comic? If he really wanted to use this framework, he should've actually described the total eclipse vs the aurora, comparing and contrasting the different ways they embodied the majesty of nature and all that.

In conclusion, when I was in grade school my aunt somehow won an interview with Ryder Windham and he was a super nice guy, but because I asked him about Bionicle at one point, that means I was technically TEN YEARS ahead of all y'all on Bionicle G2. And another time at work I recognized this dude's voice and he worked for NPR and he shook my hand.

What are two things you've done?

2017-08-25

Why Taylor Swift's "Look What You Made Me Do" Fails


Full confession, I have never been a big fan of 'the t-swift', before or after her shift from strummy country-pop to trendy dance pop. I do like "Love Story" and "I Knew You Were Trouble" though, even though they're kinda dumb.

That's really what Taylor Swift is best at: songs that are dumb but fun. Like "We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together". That's a stupid song, but it's FUN stupid, it's FUN to sing along to "Weeeee... are never ever ever... getting back together". I mean, fun for teenagers. Not me, I'm an adult person.

When Swiftaylor tries to be dark, it really just comes off as immature. Take the bridge: "I don't trust nobody and nobody trusts me | I'll be the actress starring in your bad dreams". I'm just thinking 'Well, maybe people'd trust you more if you weren't caught lying'. And 'bad dreams'? Old Taylor is dead but the edgy new Taylor can't even say "nightmare"?

And that's really the biggest problem with this song. It's set up like an edgy diss track, when it has no teeth at all. Compare it to Remy Ma's Nicki diss, which brought those #receipts and kept bringing them the whole track. Is it fair to compare a pop song to a rap song on lyrical detail? Not totally, but it does illustrate the point that "LWYMMD" doesn't name names, except in the vaguest terms. If you look at the genius page right now, you'll see people saying the song could be about Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, or Katy Perry, but it's just not clear. So it becomes just a general 'unnamed person is bad' track that might as well be another 'my ex broke up with me song'. And that would be fine, if the song itself wasn't broken.

First, look at the lyrics, removing all context: "I don't like your perfect crime | How you laugh when you lie | You said the gun was mine". Crime/lie/mine is a super basic rhyme scheme (It took five people to write this???), and the image they create is totally disconnected from any kind of reality - someone's accusing Taylor Swift of murder? and then her only reaction is "isn't cool, no I don't like you". Weak!

The beat isn't terrible, but there's a lot of weird decisions. Like how the first verse is percussion only, and there's no transition to the piano-driven pre-chorus, even though there was a perfectly suitable transition effect used at the thirty second mark when a new drum comes into the mix. And interpolating "I'm Too Sexy" was just dumb. That song is one of the (enjoyably!) goofiest songs of all time. Even people who don't recognize it are going to subconsciously associate that goofy mood with the attempted seriousness of "Look What You Made Me Do", which takes away from any power the song might have had left.

In conclusion, the only way that the song works is if it turns out to be some kind of meta-diss. Like, "Look what you made me do, you upset me so much that now I can't recognize a bad song".

2017-08-21

XKCD Isn't Funny - #1879 - Eclipse Birds


I like this one! It's not perfect by a long shot, but the joke works, and that's the most important thing.

The way the characters react as if the birds aren't acting out of the ordinary (for the eclipse, I mean) really sells it. If they were acting scared, I think it'd take away from the comic. It'd just be people reacting the way that, y'know, people would react. That's not funny, that's just people being people, but in a situation that's too 'out there' to be a satire on how people act.

Where the comic falls down is really in the presentation area. I usually have my brightness all the way down, so the words in the top of the last comic were hard to make out. That's not a huge problem, but if I was XKCD's editor, it would be something I'd fix. Maybe the gradient could have the darker side on the bottom of the panel, or maybe it could just be lightened a little.

It's also very static from panel to panel. I'm not asking to see a whole flock of birds or the construction of the blood cauldron, but if we saw like, a sparrow pecking around in the first panel, then it looks up in the second and flies away in the third, it'd make the comic more visually interesting. Or show the eclipse happening! As it is, it's just two people standing there.

Also, very minor nitpick, but the two people should be wearing eclipse glasses. Stay safe!

2017-07-29

XKCD Reviewed - #1868 - Eclipse Flights


Credit where credit is due, this is a good comic!

The dialogue avoids the worst of the usual XKCD problem where it's too stiff. Instead of "I'm calculating how many flights will intersect the eclipse...", we just get "Flight plans.". Much better! We can infer the other information from the context, which is what functional dialogue is supposed to do.

And the joke is good too. That overdramatic "end times" line just SELLS it for me. I just love the idea of a pilot going about their regular business when suddenly the apocalypse is happening except HA JK its not. It reminds me of those prank videos on youtube. No! Not those ones! The ones that DON'T suck!!!

I do have a few tiny quibbles. Panel two having no dialogue gives the comic a bit of a weird pacing, it's like a beat panel, but the panel after it doesn't have anything that would require a beat panel. Maybe instead panels two and three could be combined, with the dialogue from three superimposed over the image from two.

And yknow how English is read left to right, right? Because of that, we also 'read' art as going from left to right. Consider how we almost always see the 8-Bit Theater gang walking toward the right side of the panel, ditto for a lot of XKCDs. So the image for panel four should really be flipped vertically. That could be an intentional choice that I'm just not picking up on the ideas of, though.

I'd also like to point out that this is just a liiiiittle bit similar to #1391, which was almost five hundred comics ago, holy crap. And that on its own is not bad. This comic improves upon that one in pretty much every way, and if you're going to rip something off, you might as well improve it while you do. But if there's a third comic about people being confused about darkness, I will be very disappointed in Randall Munroe.