2472: Fuzzy Blob

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Fuzzy Blob
If there's no dome, how do you explain the irregularities the board discovered in the zoning permits issued in that area!?
Title text: If there's no dome, how do you explain the irregularities the board discovered in the zoning permits issued in that area!?


Cueball is taking a picture of his house, but sees a large fuzzy blob on the side of the picture. This blob comes from Cueball making the mistake of putting one of his fingers partially in front of the lens. This is a common enough occurrence with smartphones or compact cameras that an ordinary user should immediately be able to identify the problem; however, the comic derives humor from having no one in the comic come to this conclusion, and accordingly taking it very seriously as a perplexing mystery.

Likely, this comic stems from the resurgent talk of Unidentified Flying Objects (UFO) now dubbed "Unidentified Aerial Phenomena" (UAP) The topic regained popularity after the Department of Defense (DoD), recently confirmed the authenticity of 3 videos taken by US Naval personnel. It has been much discussed in mainstream news, not just among extraterrestrial enthusiasts or conspiracy theorists, some of whom have created QAnon spin-off theories.

Randall has previously expressed skepticism about claims of witnesses who claim to have seen unproven phenomena (including 'flying saucers', as well as supernatural events and cryptozoological specimens) based on the simple reality enough people carry cameras that they would be constantly captured in photos and videos. (See 1235: Settled).

In this strip Randall appears cases where phenomena have been caught on film, but are generally unclear and ambiguous. He appears to be suggesting that there are generally simpler explanations for what we see in the videos than objects of alien origin. Examples in the past have turned out to be things such as birds, dirt on camera lenses and lights being reflected off glass windows or bodies of water. The fact that many people seem uninterested in the more mundane and likely explanations and assume these videos are proof of alien crafts is mocked here.

It's worth noting that Randall is a strong enthusiast for space exploration, and has expressed certainty that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the galaxy. This strip is likely not intended to mock belief that other intelligences exist (notably, the conspiracy theorists in the strip assume the "flob" is man-made, not alien) but instead to make fun of excessive credulity, and point out that any definitive conclusion of aliens is overhyped.

In the final panel, Hairbun mentions further inquiry into "the historic 4th Ave Church". This is a reference to a blurry spot on the Google Maps street view image of the Fourth Avenue United Methodist Church (turn to the back of the Street View, facing the church). This is similar to the spot in the comic, and disappears in other views of the church, so is likely caused by a camera or software problem.

The tendency to make unwarranted connections to unrelated but synchronous 'evidence' is shown in the title text. Investigation of this phenomena has brought to light 'irregularities' in the local zoning permits. Such irregularities are extremely common in most bureaucracies, and may be the result of mundane corruption, incompetence, honest mistakes in a complex system, or the result of complexities that make consistent documents difficult or impossible. To connect such irregularities to an identified image does not follow logically, as both are pretty normal occurrences. However, conspiracy theories make similar leaps all the time, insisting that some case of corruption, bad decision by a government official, or developing social problem is proof of a conspiracy, rather than a very normal government problem.

An alternate intention of the word 'irregularities' might be due to the necessarily zig-zaggy nature of defining a 'circular' zone footprint by drawing best-fit boundary lines only along streets, within any established grid-based system of city 'blocks'. The interpretation of why any zone is a complex and crinkly shape, rather than a strictly utilitarian rectangle, may not be so obvious from an overview that does not take into account geological or political restrictions such as the curve of a watercourse in a valley or a mandate against hi-rise buildings within a certain radius of a monument.


[Cueball takes picture of his house from a distance great enough to get the whole house in the picture. He holds the camera (or smartphone) in both hands. The shutter makes a sound:]
[The picture he has taken is shown below. The picture is lying tilted compared to the panel, and shows the house but with a fuzzy light brown blob covering the left part of the picture, just touching the left side of the house. Above and partly over the picture is a small frame with Cueball's response when he sees the picture:]
What the...
[White Hat gestures towards Cueball with one hand, while Cueball holds his camera in one hand towards White Hat, with the picture shown on the screen, too small to see though.]
White Hat: What's that fuzzy blob next to your house? It's huge!
Cueball: I don't know! I looked up and it was gone!
White Hat: How can a giant structure vanish?
Cueball and White Hat: ...Cloaking device?!!
[Blondie is standing at the front of the panel with a microphone in her hand speaking towards the viewer. Behind her is a close up of the Blob (in black and white) on a screen. To the left of the screen is an almost bald man with hair behind his ears, holding a hand to his chin. To the right is Megan, who is holding one hand out palm up, towards the picture, which they are both looking at.]
Blondie: The fuzzy blob, dubbed "flob" by internet sleuths, has city planners stumped.
Man: No, that's not any type of building I'm familiar with.
Megan: Could be an experimental military dome.
[Hairbun is standing on a podium behind a lectern with a microphone on it. She addresses three people in front of the stage, Cueball, Megan and White Hat. Behind them Blondie is turned the other way speaking to a camera, on a tripod. She has a microphone in her hand.]
Hairbun: The zoning board investigation has found no evidence of a cloaked dome structure.
Hairbun: The historical commission will be joining the research into these domes and other unusual buildings, such as the historic 4th Ave Church...
Blondie: This only raises more questions.

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That bot description is comedy gold, I think the page is already perfect. "It's a finger." 02:30, 5 June 2021 (UTC)

Really, what more explanation do we need? 02:39, 5 June 2021 (UTC)
The only thing I could see being added is if there is a sub joke regarding the historic 4th ave church being unusual. It might just be an unimportant detail, but most of Randell's jokes have something extra behind them.Andyd273 (talk) 03:28, 5 June 2021 (UTC)
That didn't come from the bot, it comes from anonymous user Fabian42 (talk) 09:46, 5 June 2021 (UTC)

The NAVY UFOs are the same type of feature; a little bug is inside the camera, sitting on the lens inside the aircraft window. You can see the insects feet, blurry, of course, and you can watch it turn around. 02:48, 5 June 2021 (UTC)

Nice of the insects to show up on radar too, for consistency.Andyd273 (talk) 03:28, 5 June 2021 (UTC)

The people in the comics are stick figures. Their limbs and appendages are simple lines. Why would they know that the blob in the image is a finger? That’s a construct for the 3D world of people.

Someone showed me a photo of a "spirit guide" - a strange glowing fuzzy orb, floating near a group of spiritually-minded people in a dim room. I thought a few minutes, threw a pinch of flour into the air in a dim room, took a flash photo, and there were dozens of little fuzzy orbs in the photo! 06:29, 5 June 2021 (UTC)

That's why ghosts are white, obviously. They keep throwing flour around, and end up covering themselves. ;) 08:54, 5 June 2021 (UTC)
I have photos full of fuzzy orbs from tunnel. I'm not sure what EXACTLY those are, but I think bad lighting has more to do with them than ghosts. Unless there were much more causalities building that tunnel than reported. -- Hkmaly (talk) 03:54, 6 June 2021 (UTC)

Will there be an explanation of “zoning permits” joke? Sounds like something local to US. 07:02, 5 June 2021 (UTC)

I just did add something, but without seeing your request here so maybe I need to dig up a Wikilink for that definition in particular. But I always understood Zoning Permits as being roughly equivalent to Planning Permissions in the UK, or close enough. That's from my exposure to US films/TV, where it can be a (usually) minor plot-point. 08:54, 5 June 2021 (UTC)
Addendum: Yeah, it's like Planning Permission (skewed towards Land Use designations, but the two systems are overlapping in concept). What I found funny was that "Euclidean zoning" was not actually named for the coordinate system. ;) 09:12, 5 June 2021 (UTC)

What's the joke about 4th avenue church? Google fins a 4th avenue church, but it doesn't seem to be related to any mistery.--Pere prlpz (talk) 10:24, 5 June 2021 (UTC)

It might just be that churches tend to employ unusual architecture, and historic churches tend to employ a combination of antique and unusual architecture, making them distinct from the surrounding buildings, especially in urban areas. Maybe people seeing the churches would think that there's some hidden conspiratorial meaning behind their structure. 14:12, 7 June 2021 (UTC)
Could be this church: https://www.google.com/maps/uv?pb=!1s0x88690d53a414c0ff%3A0x38c51a845c08ff8a!3m1!7e115!4s%2Fmaps%2Fplace%2F%2522historic%2Bfourth%2Bavenue%2Bchurch%2522%2F%4038.2373688%2C-85.7595726%2C3a%2C75y%2C190.58h%2C90t%2Fdata%3D*213m4*211e1*213m2*211s8YHVWQJ-DS513U1EBHZ7Tg*212e0*214m2*213m1*211s0x88690d53a414c0ff%3A0x38c51a845c08ff8a%3Fsa%3DX!5s%22historic%20fourth%20avenue%20church%22%20-%20Google%20Search!15sCgIgAQ&imagekey=!1e2!2s8YHVWQJ-DS513U1EBHZ7Tg&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiUmdTU94XxAhXaMlkFHfpaAZMQpx8wBXoECDQQCA. There's a blur in the middle of the lens.
This comment is underappreciated... Although for this specific image, moving forward and backward show the same blob, so it's likely a camera/software problem. *ahem* A ghost sticking to car on one side! *gasp!* --Eelitee (talk) 22:33, 24 June 2021 (UTC)

Should it mentioned that these are stick figures, and usually don't have "fingers"? Also, why is it (white) flesh-toned instead of (ink) black? 23:59, 5 June 2021 (UTC)

Rand's white, so he probably didn't think of that and would possibly be embarrassed or change it if brought to his attention. 00:59, 6 June 2021 (UTC)
A finger in front of a lens blocks light from reaching the film, or the sensor array. Why, then, is the finger a light shade of supposed skin tone? Isn't that another reason why it should appear black instead? These Are Not The Comments You Are Looking For (talk) 04:40, 6 June 2021 (UTC)
The convex nature of a fingertip means often plenty of side-lighting is available (unless you've stoppered the whole finger right straight over the whole aperture and have no exposure at all, never mind an off-focus finger). I can confirm a finger-blob looks lit and skin-coloured (assuming daytime/lit-room photography) from a non-zero number of photos returned from the lab (remember those days?) with a sticker on them to suggest that their sharp-eyed QCing (and possibly statutory "illegal/immoral content guardianship" filtering) had determined that there was an obvious technical fault with the image, but it wasn't their fault/nothing they can do about it, and next time don't stick your finger there (or shake the camera, or fail to use a flash, or get the basic focal length right, or whatever). But an easily removable sticker, because maybe you were a budding experimental photographer not yet with your own darkroom to see your results quicker than an hour (drop-in photography shops) or a few days/couple of weeks (postal processing).
((There's also precedence for the 'stick figures' having close up details, but I'm not going to reference them, because having it not be a flesh-pink blob, but something more stick-figurey would remove a layer of viewer certainty in interpreting the desired joke. And, possibly, there's a little bit of an echo of Spiderman Noir (from the "Spiderverse" film) and the Rubik's Cube, making it actually and legitimately surprising to stickworld civilisation...)) 07:23, 6 June 2021 (UTC)
Clearly this really is a conspiracy and it runs deeper than us. Is Randall part of the NWO?!?!!!?! 18:26, 7 June 2021 (UTC)

I removed the incomplete text because I think this is done. 00:30, 4 August 2021 (UTC)

Ok -- 11:00, 17 August 2021 (UTC)

Who's going to turn this into a joke SCP? Wilh3lm (talk) 15:16, 4 November 2021 (UTC)

There are actually a few hypothetical methods of 'cloaking' an object, including optical metsmaterials, metascreens and active camoflage. See this Wikipedia article for more: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloaking_device 17:53, 30 January 2023 (UTC)

(Firstly, if the above editor cares to, they could use the {{w|Cloaking device|this Wikipedia article}} style of wikimarkup, or at least edit out the ".m" to not initially force the mobile site on others. Anyway...) The current Explanation sentence "In this strip Randall appears cases where phenomena have been caught on film, but are generally unclear and ambiguous." seems to be missing words. "...appears to be portraying cases..."? Not sure exactly what the exact intent is and not sure if I'm missing some alternate grammatical correctness. 00:30, 31 January 2023 (UTC)