Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
In this comic Cueball and his friend with a knit cap are out birdwatching (hence the title). Birdwatching is an activity to observe birds. Usually this is done at a distance, as birds are flying in the air, and are far away. It is thus helpful to use binoculars.
Cueball's friend uses binoculars and manages to spot a hawk a mile up. Cueball, however, has brought his camera, probably his superzoom camera from 1719: Superzoom. (He uses that again already two comics later in 1828: ISS Solar Transit). But it is very difficult to find anything in such a camera, especially if held in ones hand (as opposed to on a tripod) and zoomed in. And maybe Cueball is with his trained friend, out birdwatching for the first time. Cueball is frustrated and comments on the difficulty and is amazed his friend can spot birds over such distances.
Frustrated with his camera Cueball comes up with a solution, which is to use a vacuum cleaner, specifically a shop vac, to pull the birds in closer so he won't need the superzoom camera to see them (this he has just left on the ground next to the shop vac). This is physically impossible with such a small device. Even if the shop vac created a perfect vacuum, it can only pull out air at the speed of sound, which amounts to approximately 1 cubic meter per second considering the apparent size of the hose. This is not enough to create a significant amount of wind or affect the atmosphere. (Of course he may have borrowed it from his other friend Beret Guy who has many strange powers that also extends to improving vacuum cleaners, which Cueball knows about as seen in 1486: Vacuum).
Cueball's shop vac bird collector is similar in concept to vacuum-based insect collectors used by entomologists. Cueball evidently thinks that a similar concept will work to easily collect birds.
The title text refers to park rangers, who are officials in charge of protecting the natural elements (i.e. plants, animals, etc.) in National Parks and would certainly object to birds being forced to coalesce via an extremely powerful vacuum. If such a vacuum were created and used for this purpose, it probably would pose a threat to the safety of birds. Cueball says he has solved this problem by placing a perforated screen in front. In doing so, he can safely attract the birds without trapping them inside the vacuum. He implies that this should remove the danger to the birds, which is not the case. While the birds can no longer enter the vacuum itself, having a large number of birds pulled into a (presumably small) screen would probably fare poorly for the birds, so Cueball's solution is rather poor.
When out birdwatching it is a great idea to have a silhouette chart to be able to recognize the birds by the shadow they make against the sky. Two comics before this one Randall made a comic with just such a chart, 1824: Identification Chart, although that was for combinations of birds and planes...
- [Cueball and his friend with a knit cap are standing together looking up in the sky. Cueball holds a camera with a large lens down in front of him, and his friend holds binoculars down in front of him.]
- Cueball: Birdwatching is hard.
- Cueball: They're all way too small and far away.
- [In a frame-less panel they both raise their tool eyepieces to their eyes.]
- Cueball: That hawk is over a mile up! How did you even spot it?
- [Both lower their eyepiece again. The friend still looks up while Cueball looks down on his camera which he holds up in front of him. A black squiggly line above his head indicates that he is fuming over his camera's abilities.]
- [Cueball now has a vacuum cleaner with a big body and a large hose which he is pointing towards the sky, as air is visibly sucked in to the hose and the vacuum cleaner is making a very loud noise which extends beyond the frame of the panel.Cueball is holding one hand on the vacuum cleaner which has a label with its brand on it. Cueball's camera lies on the ground in front of the vacuum cleaner. The friend looks back at Cueball.]
- Vacuum cleaner: Whrrrrr
- Label: Shop Vac
- This comic was originally published with a very large picture, much larger than the standard screen.
- The original image was named birdwatching_huge.png
- The image at that location has also been downsized to normal dimensions.
- It was later updated to use an image without the "_huge" in its name, at the usual size.
- The unexpected size was at first interpreted as being part of the joke, see the discussion page.
- The idea was that the reader was only seeing an inconvenient subset of the magnified image on the screen, just like Cueball was experiencing an inconvenient subset of the magnified sky through the zoom of his camera lens.
- It seems, however, that it wasn't meant to be like this, as both the size and name of the image were later corrected.
- Alternatively the size gave people trouble with reading the page, and made Randall change his mind and reset it to normal size.
- It seems weird he would make a "_huge" version by mistake?
- The premise is similar to the Fleischer Superman cartoon The Magnetic Telescope, where a mad scientist does essentially the same thing with comets.
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- Size error at release
This is a big one.220.127.116.11 04:07, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
- I wonder if the size is a technical error, or if I am missing some subtle joke. 18.104.22.168 04:37, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
- I guess it's the latter. 22.214.171.124 04:39, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
I think the vacuum is a further joke about scale and distance playing on the absurdity of trying to vacuum from a range of one mile. I must say I don't really understand this comic very well.126.96.36.199 04:47, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
Pretty sure the size is an error, I've seen this happen briefly before. It's 1200 dpi, suitable for archival, printing, or just what comes off the scanner 188.8.131.52 09:04, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
- The size is intentional. it kinda freaked m out wen i saw it, though. i thought there was a problem with my phone! Will X (talk) 11:24, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
- I think the size is biting Randall in the rear. I'm getting all sorts of 503 gateway timeouts that appear to be from his Varnish web accelerator. The East coast is waking up and pounding his server... 184.108.40.206 11:32, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
It looks like they fixed the size. Maybe it wasn't intentional?
- I'm not sure, but maybe the size of the comic changes depending on the time? I mean, it does see like the size is smaller as of right now.(By the way, I'm not the guy on top that didn't sign his/her post.) 220.127.116.11 13:55, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
- It seems the error was fixed and it must be concluded that this was indeed an error. Or at least gave so much trouble that Randall regretted it... I have collected all comments on the size up here with a heading, to make it easier to read this and the rest of the comments. See the trivia section. --Kynde (talk) 20:51, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
If Cueball is using a camera to try and spot the bird, it seems like he is holding it far too close to his face. Binoculars are meant to be held up to one's eyes but the screen of a camera would seem blurry in one's vision if it were held that close to the eyes. Perhaps that contributes to Cueball's difficulty
in spotting the hawk. 18.104.22.168 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
I thought the vacuum was trying to drain the atmosphere to make it so that the birds can't fly as high.1I1III1 (talk) 05:42, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
- That was my thought, too. (/edit: Honestly, to think of sucking the birds in I found being too absurd, while sucking the atmosphere seemed absolutely plausible - at least for an XKCD...) Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 08:18, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
- If only he had a vacuum the size of the one in Space Balls. 22.214.171.124 15:59, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
Are these the same birds from 1824? Codrus (talk) 06:16, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
- Probably not but these two comics are definitely related. Have mentioned it in the explanation. --Kynde (talk) 20:51, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
Hey folks, am I the only one thinking that Cueball also holds the binoculars the wrong way around? Usually the small end is nearest to the eyes... That would for sure make birdwatching even MORE difficult. Regarding size, I think it is intentional.126.96.36.199 09:16, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
- Hey, that's a reflex camera, isn't it? Some camera geek can comment on birdwatching situation camera? That zoom seems much too small for the job, but I've got no real clue...--Blaisorblade (talk) 09:34, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
- The one from Superzoom! --Kynde (talk) 20:51, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
- It looks more like a bridge camera. Reflex camera lenses are usually larger near the front glass element and narrower near the sensor. This one looks like it's designed to collapse back into the camera. I agree it could be a superzoom, or the one from Superzoom. Those give lots of magnification for cheap at the expense of image quality, so their popular among first time birdwatcher.
I would take issue with the use of the word "confused" in the transcript. perhaps "blankly" would be more descriptive. --188.8.131.52 12:56, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
- Transcript is for as little explanation as possible. Have removed the word. --Kynde (talk) 20:51, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
Why is Megan wearing a knit cap? Does Randall's wife have cancer again? 184.108.40.206 16:10, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
- I don't think that's Megan. The transcript names that character as "Beanie-Man." 220.127.116.11
- The transcript is made by us users, and in most other comics with knit caps that is the name used and so this has been corrected in the explanation and transcript. There are no longer any official Transcript on xkcd. Here is where it should have been for this comic. It looks like a guy to me, but there has been several characters with a knit cap, see the link in the explanation to the largest knit cap comic, where there is a collection of other knit cap comics. It is definitely not Megan. And I sure hope that there is not more cancer for Randall and his wife. --Kynde (talk) 20:51, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
My first thought is than a successful birdwatcher requires patience, which is something that Cueball does not appear to have. You also want to avoid to making noise, so Cueball talking will probably make the bird stay at a distance, and the ShopVac would be even more discouragement for the hawk. There are other issues. I would guess that the camera is a 200 to 300 millimeter lens. If you wanted to get a good picture of a bird with that type of camera, you would have to get closer to the nest and wait very patiently for the bird to get closer. (Patiently for several hours or even days. That doesn't seem like Cueball.) Many methods are available, but they are a lot of work. You also don't try to find the bird using the camera. You try to find the bird without using telescopes or binoculars and then only use the viewing aids once you find the general location of the bird. Megan is presumably satisfied with the fact that the bird probably only fills a portion of the viewport, while Cueball is expecting a picture of the bird where you can count the feathers. So Cueball has unreasonable expectations, is unwilling to wait, and is doing just about everything wrong. He then complains about his lack of success. Cueball's next attempt might be to use a camera mounted on a drone. A lot of people have tried though, although the last image captured is often a close up view of the beak filling the entire screen. BradleyRoss (talk) 18:49, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
- Seriously? I though drones are so noisy birds avoid them ... -- Hkmaly (talk) 23:31, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
Am I the only one who is reminded of DR and Quinch at summer camp - "What kind of bird is that? (Boom) it's a dead bird uncle Waldo."
Okay, I think I have an interpretation that is not accounted for by anything currently in the article or the comments. A vacuum with a screen is what is used to catch little bugs that may be too small for you to spot in the grass. I think it's a weird play on perspective, like in 1522: Astronomy, such that cueball thinks that using the vacuum will help him catch and observe the hawks too. 18.104.22.168 22:31, 19 April 2017 (UTC)
- People vacuum lawns? Miamiclay (talk) 00:33, 20 April 2017 (UTC)
- Oh, no. I should have been clearer earlier. People who study and observe insects do this to catch them. 22.214.171.124 23:30, 22 April 2017 (UTC)
- I often vacuumed the lawn so to speak. To get rid of all the leaves. Of course I did use a device specifically made for that purpose and not a vacuum cleaner ;) We call them "Laubsauger" in Germany. Best (literal) translation would be "Leaves vacuum" or something like that. Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 10:51, 24 April 2017 (UTC)
- Yes, I think you are definitely onto something here. The shopvac is an improvised version of the vacuum bugcatcher, and the joke is that instead of catching small insects very close at hand, Cueball thinks this is going to be an 'easy way' to collect birds from a mile up.
- Here are a few photos of the vacuum style insect collector in action. Most are based more on the leafblower model than a shop vac, but the general idea is clearly the same:
- Flug (talk) 17:35, 25 April 2017 (UTC)
At first when I was looking at this, I thought he was holding a pair of binoculars like Megan (or whatever new character this is supposed to be), and that he was just looking at them through the wrong end. Then I saw all of this "superzoom" stuff and then I saw that he was holding a camera instead. Whoops. --JayRulesXKCD what's up? 19:31, 23 April 2017 (UTC)
- why is this page marked as incomplete
literally the joke is just cueball cant seem to get a picture of the birds because they are too far away so he decides hes going to use a vacuum to try and pull the birds closer. what more is there to explain TheJonyMyster (talk) 22:39, 10 June 2017 (UTC)
- on your side. have added a semisentence about handheld camera operation. this link backs me up ("The longer the focal length, the more difficult it is to steady the lens. ") --126.96.36.199 16:21, 22 September 2017 (UTC)