824: Guest Week: Bill Amend (FoxTrot)

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Guest Week: Bill Amend (FoxTrot)
Guest comic by Bill Amend of FoxTrot, an inspiration to all us nerdy-physics-majors-turned-cartoonists, of which there are an oddly large number.
Title text: Guest comic by Bill Amend of FoxTrot, an inspiration to all us nerdy-physics-majors-turned-cartoonists, of which there are an oddly large number.


Bill Amend, author of the newspaper comic FoxTrot, draws for Randall in this special 'Guest Week' edition of xkcd. In the first two panels, we see Jason Fox, a geeky 10-year-old from Amend's strip. Jason asks to draw comics for Randall. When Randall refuses, he uses the sudo command, used in Unix systems to perform an action as an administrator/super user. This forces Randall to agree. This is a reference to the very popular comic 149: Sandwich, which has now become a geek culture catch-phrase.

It is a recurring theme in FoxTrot for Jason to offer to make substitute comics for artists, said comics usually involving mocking his sister Paige, and it is possible that Ponytail is representing her. This would be the first time that someone accepted his offers to make comics.

In the first comic, Cueball is making a pun on the word attractive. In the first context it means a person is "good looking" or "beautiful" which the female character attributes to her hair. In Cueball's context, he means that he is feeling an increased gravitational pull from the woman, due to her increase in mass (see Gravitation). This setup is also very typical of the Jason Fox character, who, ostensibly ten, is supposed to be too young to like girls. The female character's hair is done up in a ponytail similar to how Paige usually keeps hers, so this comic strip may also be a joke at Paige's expense.

In 1927 Werner Heisenberg postulated his eponymous Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, which roughly states that in quantum mechanics one cannot know both the position and momentum of a particle. The joke is that (presumably) Elisabeth Heisenberg does not know the position of her keys, because she knows too much about their momentum. (This is also the subject of 1473: Location Sharing.)

In many parliamentary and congressional halls it is customary, when calling an issue to vote to have the people who want the issue at hand to be passed to say out loud that they agree. The customary response to this is to say "aye." The dissenters are then asked. Their response would be "nay" or "no". Then the volume (by rough decibels) of the assenters and dissenters are weighed. If it is close, a more formal vote may be called. "Aye" is pronounced the same way as the letter "i" and "i" is the mathematical value of the square root of negative one, which can be used to represent an imaginary number.

The title text of this comic draws attention to the fact that there are a number of notable people who have become famous as cartoonists, but also hold degrees in physics or have a strong interest in physics. This might seem unusual, because the average person might see physics and art as incompatible, and this is why Randall writes "an oddly large number." These people include:

  • Randall Munroe, the writer of xkcd, has a degree in physics from Christopher Newport University.
  • Bill Amend, the creator of Foxtrot, majored in physics at Amherst College.
  • Zach Weinersmith, who writes the webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, majored in physics at San Jose State University.
  • Henry Reich is the creator of the web video series MinutePhysics, and studied physics and mathematics at Grinnell College.
  • Paul G. Hewitt is a physicist and author of physics textbooks. His textbooks contain a number of cartoons, drawn by Hewitt himself, to help illustrate physics concepts.
  • Arryn Diaz writes the webcomic Dresden Codak, and majored in physics (among several other things) before dropping out. Her comics frequently reference ideas and experiments in physics.
  • Larry Gonick is a cartoonist who has published a number of educational comic books, including The Cartoon Guide to Physics.
  • Bud Grace, the creator of the comic Piranha Club (previously known as Ernie) holds a PhD in nuclear physics. He has been making the comic since 1988.
  • Darren 'Gav' Bleuel, the creator of Nukees, is himself a nuclear engineer.

Guest Week was a series of five comics written by five other comic authors. They were released over five consecutive days (Monday-Friday); not over the usual Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule.
The five comics are:


[Jason from FoxTrot is sitting at an artist's desk with a pencil, holding a phone.]
Jason: Hi, Mr. Munroe? I have a great idea! Let me draw some strips for you!
Randall, through the telephone: Fat chance, kid.
[Zoom in to Jason.]
Jason: Sudo let me draw some strips for you.

[The following are transcripts of three strips.]

[Cueball and Ponytail are looking at each other.]
Cueball: I find you more attractive than usual.
Ponytail: You do? Is it my new haircut?
[Zoom in to Cueball.]
Cueball: Actually, I think it's all the weight you've been putting on. Your gravitational pull is pretty severe.
[Cueball is now alone in the panel.]
Cueball: Just sayin'.

[Two people are in a living room. The woman is looking through a chest of drawers.]
At home with the Heisenbergs
Mrs. Heisenberg: I can't find my car keys.
Mr. Heisenberg: You probably know too much about their momentum.

[Congress is in session. The Speaker is standing on stage in front of an American Flag hanging by an ionic column, holding up a gavel. Seven Members of Congress are seen in front of the stage: a Cueball, a Hairbun, a man with glasses, a woman with long hair, and three more Cueballs. The first, fourth, and sixth members have their hands raised.]
Caption: Why mathematicians should run for Congress
Speaker: All those in favor of the bill say "aye."
Congressman #1: Aye.
Congresswoman #2: Aye.
Congress–Mathematician: √-1

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isn't sudo used in any Unix system? so linux and mac108.162.216.62 23:29, 10 March 2014 (UTC)

From the last paragraph of the explanation: "The dissenters are then asked. Their response being 'Nay.'" I remember it being "No". In the US Congress a voice vote is conducted as follows: "Those in favor say 'Aye'..." ("Aye...") "Those oppose, 'No'..." ("No...") "The [ayes/noes] have it." --Troy0 (talk) 08:58, 11 July 2014 (UTC)

Actually, it looks a bit more complicated than that. It appears that in the Senate, when a voice vote is called, appropriate responses are "yea" and "no," but for a role call vote, it's "yea" or "nay." In the House, the appropriate response to a voice vote is "aye" or "no," while a record vote merits a "yea" or "nay." Amusingly, for a so-called "yea or nay" vote (in which House members are called for voice vote alphabetically), the appropriate response is neither "yea" nor "nay," but rather "aye" or "no." Sources: https://www.senate.gov/general/Features/votes.htm and http://archives.democrats.rules.house.gov/Archives/voting_house.htm Orazor (talk) 09:04, 17 July 2014 (UTC)

Why not add the links to other physics comics listed? -- Ата (talk) 09:54, 5 August 2016 (UTC)

Done this (as you could have), although I note that earlier FoxTrot is linked to the Wikipedia article: would it be better to link to the comic there? I didn't consider it necessary to link xkcd, but if this is done I think it should be to [xkcd | the explain xkcd article]. Also it may be worth linking the authors to their Wikipedia pages, but I think there's already enough blue text around. 14:39, 6 January 2017 (UTC)

For some reason, I think it's Wienersmith, rather than just Wiener. I might be wrong though. 15:26, 3 August 2017 (UTC)

Perhaps this page should mention that it was reoccurring theme in Fox Trot to have Jason draw substitute comic strips for other well-known newspaper comics. This would be the first time his work was ever 'accepted'. 14:44, 22 August 2017 (UTC)