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Unicode
I'm excited about the proposal to add a "brontosaurus" emoji codepoint because it has the potential to bring together a half-dozen different groups of pedantic people into a single glorious internet argument.
Title text: I'm excited about the proposal to add a "brontosaurus" emoji codepoint because it has the potential to bring together a half-dozen different groups of pedantic people into a single glorious internet argument.

Explanation

Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: More details needed?

Three highway engineers, Cueball in the river and another Cueball-like guy and a person with white hair (either sex) on the distant bank, is placing traffic signs in a river trying to guide the water flow (as made clear in the caption).

As rivers flow according to the landscape, this plan will not work and the river will continue on its course. Cueball is very frustrated by this and is still trying to make the river obey the traffic laws. The caption lays out the punchline: The comic compares the useless approach of Cueball attempting to divert a flowing, moving river with fixed signs that do nothing, with the Unicode Consortium's attempt to define the diverse and ever-changing human language with strict technical standards.

Unicode is a largely successful attempt to have a standard for representing all possible letters, numerals, digits and symbols that make up human writing in all languages. This includes the roman letters used in this article, characters with modifiers like ê (both with the common characters as well as the modifiers selectable separately), logographic characters like in Chinese, syllabic writing system like Japanese, right-to-left and/or top-to-bottom writing systems, mathematical symbols and many other writing systems.

As the newest edition comes emoji which is also referenced in the title text (see below). The symbols on the signs in the river are real road signs, but interestingly enough they also both exist in Unicode, with the warning sign triangle with an exclamation mark ⚠ having code (U+26A0) and the black, rightwards arrow ➡ having code (U+271A). As can be imagined, coping with the wide variety of character sizes, orientations, ways they can be modified, capitalization rules, etc. can get to be very challenging as the Unicode Consortium tries to write rules that accommodate how printed language is actually used. Emoji has become a recurrent theme on xkcd.

The title text refers to a proposal (see Jurassic Emoji proposal) to add three dinosaur heads to the official list of emoji. (See also initial feedback and Proposer's timeline/status page).

This is likely to stir a glorious internet argument between the following half-dozen opposing (and pedantic) camps that may now be brought together:

  • Those who favor the inclusion of more emoji vs. those who oppose emoji on principle.
  • Those who accept the existence of Brontosaurus vs. those who deny its status as a species unique from Apatosaurus.
    • Randall has made it clear what he believes in 636: Brontosaurus.
    • Although it seems new development has occurred since the release of that comic, suggesting that Brontosaurus is a specific species. But that is still debated...
  • Those who favor a traditional, scaly image of dinosaurs vs. those who have accepted the feathered-dinosaur paradigm.
  • Those who prefer a different dinosaur species be included instead.
  • Those who point out that two of the dinosaurs in the "Jurassic Emoji" set actually come from the Cretaceous period, and as such renaming is necessary vs. those who think that "Jurassic" is a cooler word (because of the movies).
  • Those who for religious or other reasons deny the existence of dinosaurs.

See also this discussion about this comic on the Unicode mailinglist...

Highway engineer's was also the subject of 253: Highway Engineer Pranks.

Transcript

[Cueball is standing in a river close to it's right bank, the water reaching up to his thighs. He is holding on to a traffic sign standing towards right. It has a label and an arrow below this pointing to the right bank. With his other arm he is pointing to the left at the advancing water masses. Further up the river is another street sign this sign has an exclamation mark inside a triangle. The water flow is indicated with several lines on the river surface, mainly moving along the river, but around Cueball and the signs there are circular lines. In the distance on the left bank of the river two people are standing and making gestures with raised arms. The left has white hair (could be either sex) and the other is a Cueball-like guy. A third sign is lying on the ground to the left of them face down. Behind them is a slope up to a road with a parked car. The road continues out over a a bridge that crosses the river. The river which passes under it both left and right of a central pillar. At that distance the right bank of the river (and thus the right end of the bridge) is not visible, being outside the panel. On each river bank grass can be seen and on the right bank also a small stone.]
Cueball: No, go this way, not-
Cueball: Are you even listening!?
Cueball: ... Hey! That's not what that area is for!
Sign with arrow: Detour
Sign with triangle: !
[Caption below the panel:]
Watching the Unicode people try to govern the infinite chaos of human language with consistent technical standards is like watching highway engineers try to steer a river using traffic signs.


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