The amazing and wonderful Hyperbole and a Half is back, with the long-overdue continuation of the 2011 post on depression. This isn't an entirely upbeat post (as you might expect), but it is every bit as indispensable and smart and great as the previous entries. And it's an ultimately hopeful one, too.
And that's the most frustrating thing about depression. It isn't always something you can fight back against with hope. It isn't even something — it's nothing. And you can't combat nothing. You can't fill it up. You can't cover it. It's just there, pulling the meaning out of everything. That being the case, all the hopeful, proactive solutions start to sound completely insane in contrast to the scope of the problem.
It would be like having a bunch of dead fish, but no one around you will acknowledge that the fish are dead. Instead, they offer to help you look for the fish or try to help you figure out why they disappeared.
Hyperbole and a Half: Depression Part Two
Today's XKCD really tickles me. "Is It Worth the Time?" is a handy chart showing how much time you can invest in automating any recurring task in order to save time, on balance, over five years. I am an inveterate automator of recurring task, always looking for ways to shave seconds.
On the other hand, I think I'd halve the figures Randy gives in this chart, because many of the routine tasks you automate will change in some significant way in less than five years and require further work. Also, the chart fails to account for the losses in innovation and serendipity you suffer when you over-optimize a routine task so that you effectively can only do it in one highly constrained way.
Finally, there's the opportunity cost of clearing a relatively scarce large block of time to spend on automation, which may be a better bargain than giving the task more time overall, where that time comes out of a pool of more abundant small snips of time.
In other words, a five day block of time given to automating a task might cost more (that is, might crowd out more productive work) than ten half-day blocks of time or 40 one-hour blocks.
Still: this is crack for me.
Is It Worth the Time?
On March 25, Randall Munroe ran a strip called Time, an enigmatic, wordless image whose tool-tip was "Wait for it." Ever since, the strip has been updating with subsequent frames, all of them making up a time-lapse animation of a lovely story about a day of sand-castle building at the beach.
The XKCD Wikia entry for the post has animated GIFs and a slideshow showing the progress to date. It's really coming along nicely, and Randall's done some clever things with the back-end to stop people from previewing future frames.
Hidden in the tooltip for today's XKCD, a piece of important existential philosophy:
A human is a system for converting dust billions of years ago into dust billions of years from now via a roundabout process which involves checking email a lot.
A Dec 22 article in the Economist looks at the thriving world of webcomics and suggests that they have broken the awful cycle of mediocre newspaper comics -- a cycle that Bill Watterson decried when he gave up on Calvin and Hobbes. It's a great piece:
Many of these comics are expanding outwards into little media empires of their own. “XKCD”, probably the most innovative, now features a separate blog called “What If?”, on which Mr Munroe answers questions sent in by readers. One recent post asked “if every person on Earth aimed a laser pointer at the Moon at the same time, would it change color?” (The answer is no, unless you can borrow 6 billion one-megawatt lasers from the Pentagon.) “SMBC” and “Ctrl Alt Del” have both experimented with sketch shows and animated comics. “Penny Arcade” has become a sprawling video-games industry phenomenon, hosting games conventions and fund-raising campaigns.
One thing they have in common is how they make their money. The typical audience for one of the leading web comics is between 1m and 10m unique browser visits per month, comparable to a medium-sized newspaper website (the website of the Daily Mail, the best-read newspaper on the web, gets 100m per month). But unlike on newspaper websites, where advertising is the main source of revenue, the audience on web comics are not just readers—they are also customers. Most artists sell T-shirts, books, mouse mats, posters and other paraphernalia. The most successful at monetising content is said to be Mr Inman: his site, “The Oatmeal” made $500,000 in 2011 from its audience of around 7m unique visitors per month.
Amplified by social media—Mr Inman has some 700,000 Facebook followers—this audience can be powerful. One extremely long and exceptionally geeky comic last summer on “The Oatmeal”, extolling the virtues of the inventor Nikola Tesla and attacking his better-known rival, Thomas Edison, somehow snowballed into a campaign to save one of Tesla’s labs on the outskirts of New York. By leveraging his immense traffic to attract donations and to sell T-shirts and other gear, Mr Inman raised $1m in nine days—enough, with matching funding from New York State, to buy the building.
Triumph of the nerds
Today's XKCD is holds wise advice for those of us contemplating New Year's resolutions. Be sure to click through for the tool-tip bonus punchline.
The Oatmeal's "Some thoughts and musings about making things for the web" really captures a lot of the joys and sorrows of working in a creative field in the age of the Internet, especially the toxicity of spending too much time reading nasty comments, and the difficulty of maintaining self discipline. My one quibble -- and it's a major one -- is the business about "inspiration."
For me the major turning point in my working life was when I figured out that the work I produced when I felt inspired wasn't any different from the work I produced when I felt uninspired -- at least a few months later. I think that "inspiration" has to do with your own confidence in your ideas, your blood sugar, the external pressures in your life, and a million other factors only tangentially related to the actual quality of the work. If creative work makes you sane and happy (and if it supports you financially), it's terrible to harness it to something you can't control, like "inspiration" -- it sucks to only be happy when something you can't control occurs.
Some thoughts and musings about making things for the web
Apelad sez, "I posted the 2100th Laugh-Out-Loud Cats comic last night. My kids had me print it out so they could cut out each panel to try and recreate the tunnel route. It's not easy!"
Laugh-Out-Loud Cats #2100
We've hit the halfway mark on the Humble Ebook Bundle, a name-your-price, support-for-charity, DRM-free ebook promotion. With one week to go, we've added in FIVE more books: XKCD Volume 0; Zach Weiner's Save Yourself, Mammal and The Most Dangerous Game; Penny Arcade: Attack of the Bacon Robots; and Penny Arcade: Epic Legends of the Magic Sword Kings.
If you've already bought the bundle
and paid more than the average, these are unlocked and ready for you to download. If you're new to the bundle, you have seven days to buy these ones. Don't miss out!
Update: Derp -- misunderstood who got the new titles! If you've paid, they're yours.
Humble Ebook Bundle
Complexin writes, "Drew, of daily webcomic 'Toothpaste for Dinner' and 'Married to the Sea,' among other sites, seems in danger of going offline. He's offering special discounts on t-shirts, a book, and original music in hopes of generating enough revenue to keep it going. According to his Twitter stream he's not interested in donations... but if you enjoy the comics consider purchasing some of the associated items from the Sharing Machine store. I own a few of the t-shirts, and they are well-made, sized correctly for women, AND bitingly hilarious. Bonus: comes in men's styles, too."
I don't own any of Drew's tees, but I do own, cherish and highly recommend his book.
Toothpaste For Dinner: Daily comics by Drew
Comics awesomecreator Faith Erin Hicks (Zombies Calling, Friends With Boys) is serializing a new comic online called "Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong," adapted from a Prudence Shen YA novel. When the serialization is done, the whole thing will be published between covers by the marvellous FirstSecond books. FirstSecond's Gina Gagliano describes it as "full of teenagers building homemade robots in their basement." Sounds like my kind of thing!
Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong
Back in 2011, Mark blogged about the Wormworld Saga, a free, beautiful, multilingual webcomic created by Daniel Lieske. Now, Lieske has produced a world of beautiful merchandise for people who want to support his project, show off their fandom, and look stylin'. He's structured the merch production as a Kickstarter -- back it at different levels to get different items.
At the core of the Wormworld Saga are its fans. They support the project in many ways including donations, fan artwork and translations. The fans made the development of the Wormworld Saga App possible and the fans are the ones that spread the word about the Wormworld Saga on the internet so that over a million people have already become aware of it.
Funding an independent project like the Wormworld Saga is a huge challenge. And although we've already made huge steps, the financial future of the project is still not secure over the long run. With this kickstarter campaign we want to turn our focus on an aspect that we've largely neglected up to this point: there are virtually no fan items available for the fans of the Wormworld Saga! And we finally want to change that.
The Wormworld Saga Treasure Chest by Daniel Lieske — Kickstarter
Today's XKCD, "Click and Drag," is a triumph. It's a tribute to House of Leaves, and it treats the punchline as a window to a ginormous, explorable world that you can see by clicking and dragging. Dan Catt puts the artwork at 46 feet wide, assuming it is printed at 300dpi. It's full of Munrovian sly humor and sight gags, and has its own underground civilization. It's not like any other thing I've seen.
If you want to mouse around in a zoomable version of the map, see this mashup. If (when) Randall offers this for sale as a poster, I may have to throw away some furniture to make room for it.
Click and Drag
Facebook forced The New Yorker to remove a cartoon depicting Adam and Eve in the Garden because the cartoonist drew in two dots representing Eve's nipples, which is a Facebook no-no.
Darren sez, "Obsidian Abnormal is the creator of Commissioned, a madcap webcomic with zombies, gnomes, ninjas, cats and nerds.
So Obsidian and I made a card game that pits them against each other - 3v3: Commissioned. It's a unique spin on deck-building.
While every card has the normal attack values, defense values and special abilities on it, you can only use a third of three different cards to cobble together a hand."
Premiums for this Kickstarter include a ride in an airship! Darren's also the guy who did Monster Alphabet, another great Kickstarter project.
3v3 is a unique battling card game. Every hand you draw three cards. Each card has an attack, a defense and a special ability, but you have to pick which card is your attack, which is your defense and which is your ability. Then you play your three cards against your opponent's three cards.
You can score up to three points in a hand, and the first one to 10 points wins the round. But every time your opponent scores a point, you have to remove a card from your deck. This creates a fast-paced and fun gaming environment, with quick thinking needed to pick which cards to send to the scoreboard.
3v3: The Commissioned Comic Card Game