2679: Quantified Self

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Quantified Self
It's made me way more excited about ferris wheels, subways, car washes, waterslides, and store entrances that have double doors with a divider in the middle.
Title text: It's made me way more excited about ferris wheels, subways, car washes, waterslides, and store entrances that have double doors with a divider in the middle.


Cueball embraces the quantified self, a popular philosophy promoting monitoring yourself with devices and data in the hope of helping your well-being. He does so in a unique and absurdly humorous way, with help from a smart watch or handheld mobile device. Randall's caption indicates he is interested in the quantified self for unusual quantities.

Typically, fitness apps and wearable devices will track the number of steps that users take and distances walked or run, along with other measurements such as heart rate, blood oxygenation level, blood pressure, and mood. This is to encourage users to be more physically active. However, Cueball has chosen to track a modified version of this metric, in which his path is post-processed by contracting it as much as possible without it passing through anything solid. Ordinarily, people begin and end their days in bed; in this case, it can get 'caught' where Cueball has passed through topological tunnels. (See 2658: Coffee Cup Holes and 2625: Field Topology for details.) In the comic strip, we see that, over the course of his week, Cueball has looped through his house thrice and crossed under two highway overpasses, a highway sign, and apparently the St. Louis Gateway Arch before almost returning home.

This comic appeared two days after Google's announcement that Maps Directions will be sortable by sustainability, along with their support of self-quantification for sustainability when shopping for automobiles, used goods, and food.[1] This is noteworthy because of tech industry discussions between employees and executives comparing sharply increased profits and productivity from work-from-home to the value of coastal region commercial office space holdings and leases, relative to scope 3 emissions.[2][3][4][5][6][7]

An "imaginary thread" connecting a person to where they came from (as portrayed in this comic, distinct from a mystical silver cord or red thread of fate) has been attested to by people experiencing obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD.)[8][9] See also 100: Family Circus and below for further elaboration.

The title text mentions several things that would make the red path longer: passing one way through a tube such as a water slide; a tunnel, such as a subway or car wash; riding on a ferris wheel, or entering a building through one door and exiting another. In all cases the imaginary string would be "captured" and make the total distance longer.

OCD interpretation[edit]

The quantity Cueball measures can be recognized as a specific type of OCD where people feel like they have an imaginary string connecting them to where they come from.[actual citation needed] This is similar to describing 4-D paths in Minkowski space relative to the observer's frame of reference.

As they move around, that string gets entangled and they feel the urge to untangle it. When they enter a car, they feel the need to exit the car from the same door, to avoid that the string gets trapped by forever passing through the car. When they enter a building, they feel they need to exit using the same staircases and doorway(s), to avoid entangling the string in the building. Some situations, like turning around a lamp post, are OK because you can imagine removing the loop over the top of the lamp post, such that it is not really entangled.

Cueball tries a new approach to deal with this OCD by integrating it in his quantified self. He defines precisely how to measure the length of the imaginary string, reduced to its minimum, and chooses this as a quantity to monitor. Unlike most people with this OCD, who feel the urge to minimize the length, Cueball takes the opposite stance trying to maximize the (optimally minimal) length of the string. By defining as a target to achieve a given length every day, he creates a drive to embrace situations that entangle the string. This drive opposes the natural compulsion to avoid them and hopefully cancels it. The joke of the title text is that Cueball now becomes overly interested in all the things that are disturbing for people with the OCD.


[A red path links two red Cueballs. It start from the left Cueball, does two loops through a small house, under a first road bridge, under a gantry sign, under a second road bridge, under the Gateway Arch, and to a second red Cueball on the right. That Cueball is looking at a smart watch which has lines emanating from it, indicating that the red text (below) is an alert.]
Red Cueball's watch or mobile device: Good job! You hit your weekly goal for "total length of your path through space if you minimize its length by pulling it taut, maneuvering it around solid objects but not through them."
[Caption below the panel:]
I'm into the quantified self, but only for really arbitrary quantities.

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This could also be a call back to the Billy Path comics run in Family Circus. I don't have time today to add that research though. 16:00, 30 September 2022 (UTC)

Here is an explanation of what it is about https://www.reddit.com/r/OCD/comments/1ve309/invisible_thread_attached_to_my_back_am_i_the/ -- Florian F (talk) 18:11, 30 September 2022‎ (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I was going to guess sorting Google Maps Directions by sustainability announced this past Wednesday. https://blog.google/products/search/new-ways-to-make-more-sustainable-choices/ 18:53, 30 September 2022 (UTC)
How is this comic about optimizing for sustainability?
It is about optimizing a particular attribute of maps directions. Sustainability is the most recent such attribute announced (two days prior to the comic) by a top-3 commercial maps directions provider. 06:04, 1 October 2022 (UTC)
Google optimizes paths for distance and time for a long time already. The announcement is about optimizing for fuel efficiency instead. The comic clearly speaks about measuring distance but not about fuel consumption.
The comic also insists on the topological features of constructions, namely whether there is a hole. This has nothing to do with fuel efficiency. And how does pulling a string taut measure fuel efficiency? I don't understand.
The newspapers are full of events that happened 3 days ago. What makes Google's announcement more relevant to the comic than other news? Florian F (talk) 09:29, 1 October 2022 (UTC)
Are you saying your OCD interpretation is more likely? Do you have any sources compatible with WP:RSP? How do those sources compare to an annual software release announcement by a top-10 tech company? 09:34, 1 October 2022 (UTC)
What I am saying is that the Google announcement as reliable as it is, is totally irrelevant to this comic. It is both optimization of a path. So what? It doesn't shed any light on any peculiarity of the comic. If you can explain why the red line is affected by bridges and an arch, but not by buildings or mountains, in the context of sustainability an fuel reduction, you might have a case. Florian F (talk) 15:35, 1 October 2022 (UTC)
The connection is clear to me: there is a new way to select paths based on a metric nobody has been using before. I don't feel the same way about the link to Math Work which is far more of a stretch, so I uncommented the first two sentences and the references, but deleted that link. 05:12, 2 October 2022 (UTC)
What is clear is that you need to tailor your description in a very abstract way to make it look related. The context is completely different. And the reference to google maps doesn't explain any part of the comic strip. Florian F (talk) 11:53, 2 October 2022 (UTC)
All of the things in that Google blog post involve the quantified self as a central idea, not just the maps part. 21:04, 2 October 2022 (UTC)
We don't have the same understanding of what the Quantified Self is. It would be about QS if Google offered to record your emissions and give you a weekly report of your progress.
I think you're way off. I don't see any hint that it's about OCD. If it's similar to the condition you referenced, it's just a coincidence. The whole thing needs to be started from scratch. 20:41, 30 September 2022 (UTC)
That is why this site exists. To explain things you don't see. I don't think many people are familiar with this compulsion about an imaginary string retracing your path in space, but when you are, it is spot on. Florian F (talk) 23:09, 30 September 2022 (UTC)
I agree that this comic has nothing to do with OCD just because some people with OCD feels like they have a string attached. Randall is not saying he has a string just that he finds it funny to make these kind of calculations for what his path of the day have been. I agree with those in favor of deleting any reference to OCD from the explanation. Maybe someone with OCD wrote the current one? ;-) --Kynde (talk) 13:06, 3 October 2022 (UTC)
That last part should be obvious. Just as one would expect that those who push the google blog have actually watched it. ;-)

GOOMHR![10] - Although for me it was the opposite aim. I've had periods of time when I wouldn't even like (if I noticed, I wasn't like OCD or anything[1]!!!) to make a return journey that meant I even crossed the road at a different point and thus passed under a different telegraph wire between a different set of adjacent poles, on the presumption that if I were to 'retract my path' then it would be irrevocably looped around at least one telegraph poles. (But normal lamp-posts were Ok... the path-'string' could just pass over and around the top and continue to retract. And it could pass above/below anything movable like cars, people, etc.) My ideal would be to be topologically contracted to zero length. Nut I wasn't actually obsessed by it, just... sometimes noticed when I was forced to do something that would cause such 'problems' and might deliberately ensure that any such loop was fully reversed (in strict reverse order to any such transit adding them in) if at all possible. Of course, once it was spoilt by one end of the journey being held by a loop, the rest didn't matter so much. 18:21, 30 September 2022 (UTC)

[1] Not even CDO, which is like OCD but ordered alphabetically!
I definitely am also someone who always played it your way, the reverse XKCD. My cats play it straight though, running into the house, through, and out a different entrance repeatedly one day, then the other way the day after. 19:35, 30 September 2022 (UTC)
Yeah, I was always trying to avoid "entangling" my path as well. I suppose it's not just nightmares that can be "oddly universal"--childhood superstitious compulsions might be the same way, at least among the nerd population! 00:07, 2 October 2022 (UTC)
Maybe my cats are just uniquely stupid, because they loooove going out the back door, teleporting to the front porch somehow and shouting for me until I open the front door for them. They've been doing this for years, multiple times a day. Like I said, uniquely stupid.
Red string of Fate

The drawing looks like the red thread connecting people in chinese mythology. - 18:21, 30 September 2022 (UTC)

What happens to the string if you crawl under a car which then drives off? 20:05, 30 September 2022 (UTC)

You probably would only count objects that were stationary after you passed them.Anonymouscript (talk) 21:10, 30 September 2022 (UTC)
If it can conceivably move over your 'thread', then it isn't a 'tangling loop'. You have to allow for any degree of mysterious topological optimisation that can magically unhook itself from anything that can be unhooked from, no matter how much work it has to do to do so, and if that has to include choosing just the right time (with perfect prescience, where necessary!) to allow it to untangle wherever/whenever possible. 21:25, 30 September 2022 (UTC)
That doesn't make sense, taken to the extreme, since all things will turn to dust eventually. 21:47, 30 September 2022 (UTC)
Within the period of your concern (e.g. per daily routine), I would presume. That gantry over the road will be (partially, perhaps in stages) dissasembled for maintenance at some point, if not outright taken down, allowing an arbitrarily future-sensitive thread to not be caught up in it any more. Tachyonic thread-behaviour could happily unwrap around the time before the gantry (or bridges, or arch) were built, and as for the house... Before completion or after the next F5 tornado, the 4D constraints are far less (a line snagged permanently in a 4D 'passage' suggests something a bit more interesting, given a closed door doesn't 'snag' in 3D, only the use of two different doorways, with or without actual doors). But limiting it to a daily assesment bookends the whole 4D construct with a virtual lintel over (and under, in the t-dimension) any potential gap for thread-movement that might be considered a way to be optimising to minimal necessary set of straight-line distances... Well, unless you learn the gantry was only assembled that morning, or that it had sufficient Ship Of Theseus-style repairs during the day, or a truck hit it by the end of the day... then it still acts as a looped-snagger
The car is trivial, in comparison, as we know it drives away in the posited scenario (and within the duration of the scenario). Even if our mental thread-pull does not allow us to tug it under the firmly ground-planted tyres, by reducing to periods of instaniousness as the 'trapped' thread is then rolled over (and even more tightly trapped, without violating the 'through solid matter' issue) you reach a point where it is now rolled off of (no longer underneath the car at all) so you can consider it untrapped. Unlike any thread that was threaded in through the driver's side door but out again through the passenger-side one, which traps loops completely (except for convertables, of course, or if Black Hat subsequently does a more width-wise version of the "cut'n'shut", with or without the "shut" bit.
But that's just my interpretation. Thread-line obsessions probably come in various flavours and twists (can a thread-line knot about itself? And, insofar as the car example, is it basically forced to stay 'loose' but looped under the car as it drives, at least until enough of the car's wheels lose contact with the ground due to excessive speed over a humped bridge or even speedbump?) and I can't speak for all of them, but my reasonable (FCVO 'reasonable') assessment suggests that there are get outs and constraints that might be more universal than not. 01:47, 1 October 2022 (UTC)
I was taking other people into account, as if everyone's "thread" was laid on the ground at their time of passage and if someone laid their thread over mine before I could come back they'd be entangled (the solution being to cross back ahead of the person so that their thread is both time over mine and they don't get entangled, or wait for them to come back before crossing back, although if they entangled their own thread in the meantime then that wouldn't work). I don't remember ever worrying about cars though, probably they could just drive over the thread and didn't have any thread of their own.-- 09:34, 14 November 2023 (UTC)
If you can coordinate the tangling and untangling... 12:06, 14 November 2023 (UTC)
The xkcd 100: Family Circus seems relevant enough and readers can go to that page for an explanation of "Billy paths" and the OCD connection. Mrob27 (talk) 00:24, 2 October 2022 (UTC)

...because someone just deleted it, and didn't even appear to attempt to replace it with anything useful themselves. (It did need a lot of editing, but not sure it is totally inapplicable, given the demonstrated familiarity with the basic concept by Randall's target audience...) 21:25, 30 September 2022 (UTC)

I also had a preoccupation with this sort of thing, for a while as a child. My magic thread was a remnant of the umbilical cord, with one end permanently anchored in the hospital where I was born. I had little or no knowledge of the fundamental nature of matter and just thought of it as a rubber band that was too small to see or feel. Like in the comic and other comments here, it could magically stretch as much as needed and would un-stretch when possible. I did not consider changing behaviour (e.g. choosing an exit to leave a building) because I had no desire for it to be longer or shorter, and it was clearly far too late to make a significant difference. I did spend quite some time thinking of all the places the thread must have gotten caught (as in the comic) and estimating its total length. (I did not consider airports, or my estimate would have been far longer). Mrob27 (talk) 06:17, 1 October 2022 (UTC)
Comics with color, red-line subset

As Category:Comics with color doesn't have a currently extant Talk-page to it, mentioning it here (although not sure if this one counts, as much, for my suggestion). Many CwC examples are basically "monochrome with added red" ('corrections' to periodic tables, e.g.) that are distinct from "having lines of various colours" (like multidata plottings), which are in turn distinctive from floodfilled or brushstroked multihue images. A simple(ish) algorithm could autoclassify all images with any non-greyscale pixels in them, but (from a human perspective, which is definitely my kind of perspective!) I think that we could sub-split CwC candidates into something like "(Monochrome) Comics with added red lines", and the rest. Doubtless some are going to be edge-cases (is this one technically a red-line one? Probably, but it's not really the same as a 'correction/annotation' red-lined comic), but such subcategorisation might still be broadly useful. - Just a wild idea, that you could perhaps safely ignore. 02:25, 1 October 2022 (UTC)

Are there any reliable sources for the OCD interpretation, or merely a collection of anecdotes? If the former, please spell out and wikilink OCD. 07:24, 1 October 2022 (UTC)

I have some questions about the Google Maps Directions sustainability and related Google features; please see:

Firstly, has Google published a cost-benefit analysis comparing the sharply increased profits and productivity from work-from-home to the value of coastal region commercial office space holdings and leases? 08:49, 1 October 2022 (UTC)

Added, except I TLDRed on those six links lol. 08:57, 1 October 2022 (UTC)
This looks totally irrelevant to me. Florian F (talk) 09:29, 1 October 2022 (UTC)
Did you miss these three?
? 09:31, 1 October 2022 (UTC)
No, seriously? You think this comic has to do with google employees working from home?

I deleted the entire OCD interpretation section because I couldn't figure out how to comment it out. 10:59, 1 October 2022 (UTC)

Usual HTML commenting-out would do it. Put a <!-- before it and a --> after it. (There's no valid 'tag-end' --!>. The special tag as a whole is <!-- COMMENTED CONTENTS HERE -->, though why it isn't <!-- --/> more closely aligned with XML standards for singleton tags I couldn't tell you. ;)
However, I feel you're just missing the fact that this is provably a thing (to various degrees as exquisitely described both here and on external links) and as valid as subject for Randall's parody as stepping only in valid patterns or not even upon the floor at all. But you've made the change, so... 21:47, 1 October 2022 (UTC)
Glad to see some people have some sense. Florian F (talk) 22:34, 1 October 2022 (UTC)
I put the proper HTML markers to comment out the old OCD section (that the anonymous editor thought was too long?) and restored the citations with a much shorter explanation and two relevant XKCD comics (735 floor and 100 family circus). Mrob27 (talk) 22:39, 1 October 2022 (UTC)
Now you can do the same with the Google Maps Sustainability hypotheses that so far hasn't proven any relevance to the comic. But do I repeat myself? Florian F (talk) 22:34, 1 October 2022 (UTC)
I'm inclined to agree. I'll put the same block-comment tags around that Google Sustainability paragraph. Mrob27 (talk) 22:50, 1 October 2022 (UTC)

We need a "I don't get it" tag for these strips. We could call it "r/whoosh". (to be fair, I understand the comics, but I don't personally find it neither fascinating, nor interesting, nor funny, nor depicting an interesting fact, nor something I can relate about, and I don't think I'm going to be the only one... YMMV to those who feel differently). Ralfoide (talk) 17:09, 1 October 2022 (UTC)

A thought about the world of this comic

The world created by these locations looks like the world of the original Starcraft's third Terran mission, "Desperate Alliance," the one where you have to survive for thirty minutes. Just a thought.

Ferris wheel

I'm going to need somesort of visual to understand why riding a ferris wheel would constitute going through a topological tunnel. I've been staring at an image like this for a few minutes now and can't figure it out. I presume it has something to do with the cabin dropping within the circle of the eye? Presumably this wouldn't count for this design then? Either way, I cannot visualize it at all... Maplestrip (talk) 09:24, 3 October 2022 (UTC)

I think some ferris wheels have you enter on one side and exit on the other, which makes people waiting in line not ahaving to get out of your way. Not all, but I have tried at least one. And in such a wheel your string would go through the cabin (which then also goes around and around, thus maybe winding up the string?) --Kynde (talk) 13:05, 3 October 2022 (UTC)
Unless you restricted your ride to just the single circuit (and, even then, with infrastructure caveats about cabin/gondola entry and exit) every loop you made of a standard "axle with two supports" Ferris-style wheel would thread you (inexorably) through the legs/axle 'doorway' sat upon the ground. This can only be avoided by having a single-sided support for the wheel.
Though, recalling my few journeys upon that particular example, despite that offset support, plus the ride being just a single slow loop (minus the small distance between pod-empty point and the pod-fill one for the next occupants), plus the gondolas/pods being external (with traditional internal gondala-to-wheel being a further 'threading' action to be concerned about), there were other thread-loop-holding aspects even to the queuing experience, if one cares to keep track of such things.
You could design a threading-free 'wheel', even multi-turn, but almost every example built without such considerations (all of them?) will provide at least one 'tunnel', probably more, whether wanted/desired or unwanted/undesirable for your mental or virtual thread-tracking purposes. 14:59, 3 October 2022 (UTC)
Oh, I hadn't considered the "foot" of the ferris wheel at all, that is indeed clever. It is still hard to visualize, but if you ignore that the wheel exists at all and just thread the "string" between four feet and around a central spoke, it would indeed work out like this. Thank you! You can mentally reshape the ferris wheel to be a table or a horse, it becomes a lot more obvious. Maplestrip (talk) 13:01, 4 October 2022 (UTC)
Not even four feet (although A-frame supports could give additional 'side doors' to entangle through, if you enter one side and exit the other, going through the splayed beams mak8ng up each vertical side), imagine some American-jive/Lindihop(sp?) dance move where the gal gets swung under the guy's legs. And possibly over his head and through them again in the more energetic dance-moves! Until/unless he lifts his feet, her 'life-thread-path' is wrapped around the ground-loop he forms.
And 'hungunder' baskets rotate around the pivot to the wheel's circumference which (by making your frame of reference stationary to the wheel) continually loop round and through the wheel-rim, being a wheel-axle/wheel-structure-basket-axle loop that the passengers additionally tangle round and through (once per ride rotation), like some sort of demented knitting-machine* crossed with a crazy bread-mixer.
* – not quite right, knitting machines don't loop-through the same as a sewing-machine's second thread does, or dodge in and out and round like a loom's shuttle around the warps, but there's probably some single-thread fabrication technique that truly knots like a ferris-wheel might do if you were to feed it an appropriate cord.
For no-hoop ferris-wheels, something like can be seen here would work. (Though with the multi-car designs the question is whether you count/mind/endure your invisible-thread possibly being braided up with other riders' invisible-threads, like a rope-making machine does.) 14:46, 4 October 2022 (UTC)

Cueball makes 2.5 loops of the house, not 2 as in the explanation - 3 passes of the interior, and 2 of the exterior. 08:19, 4 October 2022 (UTC)

... I also did exactly this 15:34, 4 October 2022 (UTC)

I thought about this today driving to the supermarket. Bridge and sign are nothing! The thing you really get entangled with are all the electrical wires from telephone poles to the opposite side of the road. Divad27182 (talk) 03:18, 5 October 2022 (UTC)