XKCD vs hand-wringing about what texting does to kids' literacy

It's great, and the tooltip's even better: "I'd like to find a corpus of writing writing from children in a non-self-selected sample (eg handwritten letters to the president from everyone in the same teacher's 7th grade class every year)--and score the kids today versus the kids 20 years ago on various objective measures of writing quality.

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Novel-writing is very energy-efficient

How much energy is expended in all the keypresses made in the course of typing a novel? Not much: "With a lot of rewrites, you might expend several kilojoules—but you'd need to rewrite every word 10 times to match the energy stored in a single AA battery." [XKCD What If?]

XKCD: the TED talk

Here's Randall Munroe's TED talk about his What If? series, in which he answers big, weird questions about baseballs travelling at the speed of light and such, which is also the subject of a hotly anticipated forthcoming book. The talk is a mix of war-stories and insight into what makes Munroe (who is a fascinating dude) tick.

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Judges read XKCD

Mitchell sez, "On May 14 the California Court of Appeal issued an opinion [PDF] in Digital Music News v. Superior Court, relating to copyright infringement litigation over Grooveshark. The opinion, which held that website owners don't have to turn over the identities of anonymous commenters, drops an XKCD reference near its end: 'We will not lightly lend the subpoena power of the courts to prove, in essence, that Someone Is Wrong On The Internet.'"

Exactly what $2, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000 looks like

Remember Anton Purisma's lawsuit for 2 undecillion dollars? Randall "XKCD" Munroe has devoted this week's What If? to calculating exactly what $2,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000,000, 000,000,000,000 looks like. He points out that this is a sum larger than the present value of every manufactured good in the world, as well as all the potassium and calcium in the Earth -- more, even than the present value of a planet-sized lump of solid gold.

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Some considerations for potential XKCD phone purchasers

Randall Munroe's xkcd Phone has the greatest warning label of all time: "Presented in partnership with Qualcomm, Craigslist, Whirlpool, Hostess, LifeStyles, and the US Chamber of Commerce. Manufactured on equipment which also processes peanuts. Price includes 2-year Knicks contract. Phone may extinguish nearby birthday candles. If phone ships with Siri, return immediately; do not speak to her and ignore any instructions she gives. Do not remove lead casing. Phone may attract/trap insects; this is normal. Volume adjustable (requires root). If you experience sudden tingling, nausea, or vomiting, perform a factory reset immediately. Do not submerge in water; phone will drown. Exterior may be frictionless. Prolonged use can cause mood swings, short-term memory loss, and seizures. Avert eyes while replacing battery. Under certain circumstances, wireless transmitter may control God."

Randall "XKCD" Munroe is doing a What If? book!

XKCD creator Randall Munroe has announced that Houghton Mifflin will collect his amazing What If? science columns into a book called What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, to be published in September 2014. It will include in-depth answers to questions that he hasn't yet answered online, as well as expanded and updated versions of his previous columns.

What If? is one of my Internet must-reads, and I look forward to each new installment, and always read it with delight.

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Now: XKCD helps you visualize the time of day all over the world

In Now, the latest XKCD cartoon, Randall Munroe provides a handy, continuously updated way to visualize the current time all over the world. I happen to know that Munroe is an inveterate long-distance driver who likes to pass the hours on the road by calling friends; I imagine that a wheel like this would be handy for helping him figure out which continent he should be searching for in his address-book in order to find conversational partners at any hour of day.


XKCD's "Frequency" - using blinking GIFs to visualize the relative frequency of the momentous and trivial

In Frequency, the latest XKCD cartoon, Randall Munroe has assembled a grid of animated GIFs representing various events in the universe, each keyed to blink in the frequency in which they occur in reality. As with the best of Munroe's work, it's a mix of the trenchant and the silly, and the juxtapositions are smart and provocative. There's real genius in putting "50,000 plastic bottles are produced" and "50,000 plastic bottles are recycled" next to each other, the former blinking much more often than the latter -- but the best part is "A Sagittarius named Amelia drinks a soda," just above them, mixing up the alarming and the humorous.

The other juxtapositions are just as delicious -- one birth/one death; China builds a car/Japan builds a car/Germany builds a car/US builds a car/someone else builds a car; someone buys "To Kill a Mockingbird"/someone's cat kills a mockingbird -- and so on. This being XKCD, you can be sure that Munroe has an absurdly well-thought-through process for establishing and documenting his numbers, too.

The tool-tip notes that he wanted to include pitch-drops in the chart, but "it turns out the gif format has some issues with decade-long loops." Frequency (via IO9)

20th Century headlines as modern linkbait

XKCD's Headlines presents a timeline of the 20th century with the major milestones summarized in A/B tested, linkbaity, listicle headlines.

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No robot will ever...

Today's XKCD strip, Reassuring, wittily illustrates Kevin Kelly's Seven Stages of Robot Replacement, which start with "1. A robot/computer cannot possibly do the tasks I do" and heads toward "5. OK, it can have my old boring job, because it’s obvious that was not a job that humans were meant to do."

Be sure you go to the original for the tooltip punchline.

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What would it cost to continuously print out every edit to Wikipedia?

In a recent What If...?, XKCD's Randall Munroe tackles the important question: "If you had a printed version of the whole of (say, the English) Wikipedia, how many printers would you need in order to keep up with the changes made to the live version?" Turns out the answer is SIX, but it would cost $500,000 a month for the ink, and you'd need 300m^3 a month to store the paper.

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Cetacean needed: Wikipedia whale diagram needs line-art

The missing elements in the diagram on the Wikipedia page for List of cetaceans is missing some line-art of various whales and such. Where the art is missing, the box simply bears the legend "cetacean needed." (ObRef XKCD)

Nice work editor of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_cetaceans … - missing diagrams labeled 'cetacean needed' @doctorow pic.twitter.com/B18yrKrJvI

Making sense of "Beanish," XKCD's synthetic language

As was noted, the amazing, 3,000+ installment XKCD story Time featured a synthetic language (with its own script) created by a linguist for the story. Deciphering Beanish is a blog where the language is being slowly, surely made legible.

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Astounding backstory behind XKCD's "Time"

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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