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A week ago, Randall Munroe finished "Time", XKCD's long, running, slow-updating, 3,000+ frame comic telling the story of two people who discover an impending superflood that would destroy their society. Randall's explained in detail what was going on there, from the geology of the thing (it's set millennia in the future, amid a civilization denied the ability to jumpstart itself by the paucity of remaining fossil fuels, and the flood is modelled on a real event that sealed off the Mediterranean Sea five million years ago) to the fictional language the upland culture speaks (designed by a linguist, and still mysterious).
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Randall Munroe has finally finished Time, his 3,000+ frame slow-motion animation that began life as wordless, enigmatic single-panel XKCD installment. Since then, the panel has been slowly, slowly updating itself, running out its course over several months. Geekwagon has collected the whole series in an easy-to-control window, and the story, taken as a whole, is a beautiful and odd existentialist parable touching on the discovery of geographic knowledge; cultural first contacts; environmental disaster, friendship and ingenuity. (Thanks, @dexitroboper!)
Humble Ebook Bundle reveals second week bonus books: XKCD, Gaiman/McKean, Holly Black & Machine of Death!
The Humble Ebook Bundle -- a two-week, pay-what-you-like, DRM-free ebook sale -- has just revealed the four bonus books in week two: XKCD Volume 0 by Randall Munrow; Signal to Noise by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean; Poison Eaters and Other Stories by Holly Black and the bestselling Machine of Death anthology. To get these bonus titles, you have to pay more than the present average for the books (if you bought already and paid more than the average at the time, these books are already yours to download, otherwise, you can top up your payment to get them). Remember, you can also buy the bundle as a gift-code to give to a friend!
(Reminder: the Bundle also includes Peter Beagle's The Last Unicorn; Wil Wheaton's Just a Geek; Lois McMaster Bujold's Shards of Honor; Robert Charles Wilson's Spin, Cherie Priest's Boneshaker and my Little Brother)
Today's XKCD, "The Pace of Modern Life," is a lovely collection of 19th century and early 20th century quotations about the hurried pace of modern life, the atomisation and trivialisation of knowledge thanks to modern media, the disobedience of children (again, thanks to modern media) (this topic was a favorite of Socrates's!) and other hand-wringing editorial subjects frequently chosen by modern critics of the Internet age. A great companion piece to Tom Standage's wonderful catalog of moral panics through the ages.
Carl sez, "Remember Digger, Ursula Vernon's Eisner award nominated/Hugo Award winning webcomic about a wombat searching for a way home? Publisher Sofa Wolf has launched a Kickstarter for an all-in-one omnibus edition. It's currently available in six individual volumes or free online, but this will put it all in one convenient book. Plus it's the first kickstarter to offer a wombat-sized pickaxe as a reward (in foam or metal)."
Digger Omnibus (Thanks, Carl!)
Oh Joy Sex Toy is a weekly webcomic that features reviews of sex toys, porn, pinups, sex clubs -- basically, the whole pervy gamut. It is written and drawn with such gosh-darn sweet enthusiasm by Erika Moen (with the occasional guest-shot from husband Matthew, who provides a dude's perspective) that even if your tastes are tamer than Moen's, I think you'll find it a perfectly wonderful read.
Oh Joy Sex Toy - Introduction [NSFW] [Duh]
(Thanks, Fipi Lele!)
Kaja and Phil Foglio have launched a Kickstarter to fund the printing of volume 12 of the wonderful Girl Genius webcomic, and to reprint the older books. These are multi-award-winning, independent steampunk delights, and $30 gets you "an actual, dead-tree, SOFTCOVER copy of Girl Genius Volume 12: Agatha Heterodyne and the Siege of Mechanicsburg. 192 pages in full color. Shipped to you by means of one of the largest government agencies on Earth!"
Printing the actual books is our biggest single expense. The first print run of a typical volume costs in excess of US$25,000. If that seems high, you must remember that we print eight thousand of them, and they usually run to around 120 pages. Our latest volume, number 12, will be even more expensive, as it comes in at 192 pages, and we’ll be printing nine thousand of them, because eight thousand wasn’t enough last time. Exciting? Yes, but one can’t pay the printer with excitement.
We also have to ship the books. Actually, we have to ship them twice. Once from the printer to the fulfillment center, and once again from the fulfillment center to the customer. And whether a book is shrink–wrapped with thousands of its friends onto a pallet and loaded into a truck, or carefully packaged for individual shipping, several thousand pounds of books cost serious money to transport.
It's got a short fuse on it because they want to get the books in hand in time for San Diego Comic-Con. Act now!
Girl Genius Volume 12 Printing and Reprint Frenzy!
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Stefan Jones sez, "Web comic master Patrick "Electric Sheep" Farley switches styles with frightening ease. The First Word, an enigmatic story about australopithecine, was done in lovely photorealistic CGI. His new work, Steve and Steve, is sharp line art with sepia-tones. It's about . . . Steve and Steve. Jobs and Wozniak, BSing about evolution, witchcraft, and the cold war under the skeleton of a ruined geodesic dome. I hope he can keep this one going."
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.
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.
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 (Thanks, Martin!)