821: Five-Minute Comics: Part 3
|Five-Minute Comics: Part 3|
Title text: Resulting in The Little Rock 9x + C.
This is the third and final "five-minute comics" post Randall made during November 2010. The introduction to the comic explains everything you need to know about the circumstances behind it, so let's get started!
- Pearl Harbor is a US Navy base that was attacked in 1941 by Japanese airplanes, which prompted the US to join World War II. Of the attacks, Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto is claimed to have said "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve" (although this claim is disputed, as the quote first appeared in the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora! and isn't substantiated by any sources that would have heard him say it).
- The attacks were made on December 7, 1941, not November 7. Thus, Randall is correct in depicting a Navy base going about its usual business.
- Breastfeeding in public is a touchy subject in parts of the world. In the US, it is considered by some to be inconsiderate to others who would prefer not to see such a display. Of course, women breastfeeding in public are generally feeding their infants, not other adults. The situation presented in the comic is an absurd exaggeration of the debate.
- "s" is the command in sed to perform a pattern search-and-replace; the syntax has also been adopted by other text-processing utilities, including Perl (a favorite subject of xkcd), and has entered into the geek lexicon as something that could appear in general conversation. The specific command "s/I think that/I saw a study once that said/g" means "Find all occurrences of the phrase 'I think that', and replace it with the phrase 'I saw a study once that said'." This will, indeed, improve the persuasiveness of an article, as the existence of scientific evidence will make people more likely to believe what's said, while most people won't even think to actually look up the study in question.
- Arson is the crime of intentionally setting fire to a structure. Billy Joel will no doubt claim he didn't start the fire.
- Coca-Cola is a fizzy cola-flavored soft drink, commonly abbreviated as "coke." Pop Rocks are a candy that contain tiny bubbles of gas, so that as the sugary candy dissolves on your tongue, it creates a popping sensation. For a long time, it was claimed that drinking the two together would cause one's stomach to explode; this was finally put to rest as some people (the Mythbusters in particular) started actually trying it, and discovered that nothing happened.
- Randall, of course, just thinks outside the box.
- After Brown v. Board of Education ruled that schools could not segregate based on race, nine African American students from Little Rock, Arkansas enrolled in the previously-segregated Little Rock Central High School. The school board could not officially deny them attendance, but members of the community (and, after Arkansas governor Orval Faubus intervened, the Arkansas National Guard) formed a blockade to physically prevent them from entering the school building. The governor claimed this was within his power even after Brown v. Board, because the students were enrolled without issue, they were just physically blocked from entering the school building. After determining that the right to enroll in a school does, implicitly, include the right to actually attend classes there, president Eisenhower ordered the 101st Airborne Division to accompany the students and force the National Guard to stand down, thus integrating the school. This incident became known as the Little Rock Nine.
- However, integration also has a meaning in mathematics. This is indicated in the comic with the soldiers lifting up a giant integral sign to place beside the school, in order to (mathematically) integrate it. Normally, an integral only makes sense on functions; however, since this is the Little Rock Nine, if we take the integral of the constant function f(x) = 9, we do, in fact, get 9x + C, as stated in the title text.
- Cell phones with advanced computing capabilities (typically at least requiring fully-featured Internet browsing, multimedia capabilities, and the ability to run software applications) are called "smartphones." Most cell phones also have a "vibrate" function that allows someone in a public situation to receive calls without alerting others; the phone will discreetly vibrate rather than activate a ringtone, thus privately notifying the owner that a call is incoming. A semi-common problem with this feature is that a vibrating phone on a table that has a slight slope will slowly (or, if the slope is bad enough, rather quickly) slide down the slope, possibly falling off the table and breaking. If our smartphones ever decided to kill us, this would possibly be their only method of attack.
- Randall later covered this in his What-if blog.
- The Three Little Pigs is a children's fairy tale about three pigs who build their houses out of, respectively, straw, sticks, and bricks. A wolf comes along and eats the pigs living in the straw and stick houses, but he can't knock down the brick house, because his only method for breaking them down is to blow on them until the material falls to pieces. The lesson is somewhat confused and seems to be "Don't build your house in such a way that a semi-strong wind can blow it down," which is sound advice but somewhat bizarre for a children's story.
- The 119 Little Pigs seems to be a variant where the pigs build their houses out of the 119 chemical elements. The 38th little pig builds his house out of strontium, which is, of course, the 38th element on the Periodic Table. One wonders what happened to the pigs who are stuck making their houses out of elements that are gaseous or liquid at room temperature, or those whose houses would react with the air and/or undergo nuclear decay.
- Although given the water content in exhaled breath, it's easy to see how the wolf would huff, puff, and blow down the houses made of lithium, sodium, potassium, rubidium, caesium, and francium.
- "Fastest gun in the West" is a boast commonly made in Western movies, where it is used to mean that a person is the fastest at drawing his gun in a duel (or, alternatively, can fire his gun the fastest). It doesn't actually describe the gun itself, and certainly doesn't describe how fast the gun can gallop across the land.
- "It's what separates the men from the boys" is a phrase used to describe "macho" activities that, apparently, only "real men" will participate/do well in; all the other men haven't grown up yet, and are thus "boys." Centrifuges are used to rapidly separate a material from the liquid it's dissolved in, so apparently they can also be used to separate men from boys.
- Narnia is the mythical land in The Chronicles of Narnia. In the books, time passes differently in Narnia, such that one can spend many years in Narnia and come out to find that almost no time at all has passed on Earth (and, conversely, during a short trip back to Earth, hundreds of years could pass in Narnia). Lucy is taking advantage of this by putting a computer in Narnia to perform extremely fast computation. Folding@home and SETI@home are distributed computing projects that aim to solve extremely large computational problems by pooling together computer resources of thousands of home computers who volunteer for the project; Folding@home looks at how proteins are folded, which has applications in medical science, and SETI@home analyzes EM waves from space, looking for signs extraterrestrial intelligent life amongst the cosmic background noise. Running through all of that data in a few hours would be quite an accomplishment indeed, although, as Peter points out, the idea has many problems:
- The book was written in 1957 and it occurs even earlier than that, long predating personal computers, so Lucy shouldn't even have one.
- Even if it occurs in an alternate universe where the PC was invented before 1957, the storage that would be needed to store the entire Folding@home and SETI@home databases would be far beyond her means, since the characters in the book are foster kids who don't have any money.
- Even if she somehow pulled that much storage space together, the time needed for one computer to run through those databases is on the order of millenia. A computer would not continuously run for that long without careful treatment, which Narnia is not equipped for.
- Even if we handwave around that issue ("Aslan, use your power to keep all dust away from this computer for the next ten thousand years, please"), the wall socket powering the computer is on the Earth side. Mains power outlets in the UK provide alternating current with an amplitude of 230 volts and a frequency of 50 hertz. The 50hz part is what's important here: all devices designed to work with UK mains power expect a 50hz sine wave. The time difference between Earth and Narnia would substantially elongate the sine wave in a method similar to the Doppler effect, which would probably prevent the computer from functioning at all.
- The Honeymooners is a classic American sitcom. The show stars Ralph and Alice Kramden, and Ralph frequently makes empty threats of the form "One of these days, Alice...," followed by a combination of onomatopoeia. For example: "One of these days, Alice... BANG! ZOOM! Straight to the moon!" (Alice inevitably replies "Ahhh, shut up.")
- Here, Randall takes the pattern to a ridiculous and not-at-all threatening place.
Because of a family illness, instead of regular comics, this week I'll be sharing some strips that I drew as part of a game I played with friends. Each comic had to be written and drawn in five minutes.
- Pearl Harbor. November 7th, 1941.
- [There is a beach, with some ships floating in a crescent shaped harbor.]
- [The same bay, again.]
- [The boats continue to move about the harbor.]
- [The boats do their thing. A title explains.]
- (We're going to be here a while, since the attack wasn't until December.)
- [Cueball is sitting on a bus, Megan in front of him.]
- I know it's natural and all, but I really wish women on the bus wouldn't try to breastfeed me.
- Woman: C'mon, have some milk. Right here.
- Me: I'm reading.
- s/I think that/I saw a study once that said that/g
- Instant persuasiveness multiplier!
- [A newspaper front page. Billy Joel is between two policemen.]
- Billy Joel Arrested for Arson
- [One person has a cord leaving their mouth, the other is holding a handset on the end of it to their ear.]
- Handset: Hee hee hee... *giggle*
- I hear that if you drink coke and eat pop rocks, you vomit up a corded telephone handset on which you hear creepy little girls giggling.
- [Three soldiers are holding a large integral sign, while a fourth points a gun at the Little Rock High School.]
- 1957: Eisenhower orders the military to integrate Little Rock High School.
- [A smartphone is vibrating across a table, towards a person.]
- The smartphones got too smart... and developed a taste... for BLOOD!
- Fortunately, the only way they could move was by turning on their vibrate while on a sloped table.
- [Cueball is reading to his child.]
- Cueball: And the wolf went to see the 38th little pig, who had built his house out of strontium.
- Cueball: And the wolf was all, "Ok, what is with this shit?"
- The 119 Little Pigs
- [Cueball is holding up a gun.]
- Cueball: Fastest gun in the west!
- [The gun is galloping across the desert.]
- gallop gallop
- [There is a podium, with a gun in each position.]
- [A picture of a centrifuge dominates the panel.]
- Centrifuges: They're what separate the men from the boys.
- [A computer monitor is plugged in, and cables run into a wardrobe.]
- Lucy: Time passes differently in Narnia, so by putting the CPU and storage for my machine there, I was able to run through the Folding@Home and Seti@Home databases in about an hour.
- Peter: There are _so_ many problems with that.
- [Someone is talking to Alice.]
- Person: One of these days, Alice... Wham, zoom, sploosh, fwoom, splash, gurlle, wheeeee, fwoosh, aren't waterslides fun?!