Azure Jane Lunatic (azurelunatic) wrote,
Azure Jane Lunatic

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Making the world a weirder place! XKCD appearance at Borderlands, fun for all!

jai_dit had been bemoaning the fact that Randall Munroe of XKCD was going to be in the Bay Area with book release events, and he could not justify the expense of tickets to some of the closer events. When he found out about tonight's event, he decreed that he was going, and encouraged any of the usual local crowd who could make it to join him.

I overshot my planned departure time by over half an hour, which made me wince at the likely lateness. JD called me as I was headed for the freeway to let me know that [info - personal] janinedog was there and they were headed for dinner, and did I mind terribly (we'd originally thought about dinner after). I did not mind; I was running late as it was and I'd had a snack prior. No worries. I did my usual evening-event-in-town routine: park at Daly City BART, ride in, walk to the event.

I chose to get off at the 24 and Mission station under the (mistaken) impression it was closer. It was 7:18 by this point. I limped as fast as I could for Borderlands. When I arrived, I was relieved to see that nothing had started happening yet, although people were congregated in chairs. It was a smaller turnout than Seanan McGuire's release party, but that was perfectly fine with me. [info - personal] nova waved me over. She had been saving some chairs for Janine and JD, but they had not returned from their getting-food-adventures yet. Stacey advised that tupshin was on his way too, much to my delight. And Tupshin did arrive, and suddenly I was hugged by another part of the internet that I was not expecting to see! (Not Tupshin.) Tupshin and the Unexpected Part of the Internet settled down in Janine and JD's other saved seats, and then Randall Munroe appeared.

He started talking about the process of getting XKCD published before I'd even properly got my camera out, but I managed to get it out before too long. I'm just going to dump all the video here and get it out of the way; there's a lot of it.

A whole playlist on YouTube so you don't have to keep telling the next one to play.

I tried to split it up manually, but the first file was too long anyway, and I didn't want to miss the amount of time it would take to stop and start the recording. (Notice how I'm not used to editing video yet.) The second file commences.

At this juncture I was glad that I stopped when I did, because I got a battery warning. I fumbled in my pocket for the lipstick case with the spare batteries (best innovation ever), and hurriedly stuffed them in just as jai_dit asked if he ever read the comments on LJ feeds.

Mr. Munroe said that in fact sometimes he did, and wondered aloud if Jassa was still up to his(?) old tricks. This was greeted with great hilarity. Fresh batteries locked and loaded, I resumed recording.

He went into the publishing process, his creative process, his art, what he did for the book (commented, scanned, red-inked), the page numbering system (it's a surprise; I'll wait and see if Tupshin figures it out), gaming comment moderation systems to get readers, and all sorts of entertaining things. You can hear me say "Oh honey" near the beginning of his backup tale of woe, which culminated in the theft of his laptop literally during the backup process.

Partway through the chat, Ripley came in and hopped up on the table. This provided us all with an immediate illustration of the Cat Proximity Principle. At several points Ripley climbed on Tupshin. Hilarity abounded, particularly when Ripley began nomming on Tupshin's shirt. Tupshin handed Ripley back. Ripley stole Mr. Munroe's water bottle lid and started playing floor hockey with it. (There was one sneeze from an allergic customer, but that was it as far as cat allergy incidents go.) Buttering a cat is a very efficient way to butter the whole house.

Things wound down about ten until nine. JD and Janine joined the crew; they'd been standing in the back. The Unexpected Portions of the Internet had to leave by nine, so there was a very quick amount of chatter and shop talk; there will be Folsom Street Fair attendance! Other meetup plans were made. The signing commenced, with people in an orderly line, but permission for people who had to hop out early to jump the line. Tupshin was giving a ride to the Unexpected Portions of the Internet, so he did just that, and did a bit of networking. (I hope it bears fruit. Or fruitz. Or whatever.) There was then a key crisis, where Tupshin suspected Ripley of nicking his keys, but he found them, in an unexpected pocket.

Long line was long. There was a lot of chatter. Someone whose username I did not entirely catch, but who created in 2003, was standing next to me; we share a love for Bimbos of the Death Sun and Zombies of the Gene Pool. JD took himself off to the couch in back to actually get his supper eaten, and rejoined the end of the line with not much noticeable progress.

There was much hilarity. I explained my views on Twilight, and my opinion of what its major problem is (first person narration by a *painfully accurate* teenager), and suggested to the assemblage that it is best read from a library/borrowed/etc. copy, in a group, with popcorn, and someone quoting the best lines. I also mentioned Growing Up Cullen, as that continues to amuse me without end. I pondered out loud what might happen if the Fanlore wiki and TvTropes were to join forces and cross-link, as they can be similar, but fill different needs.

Stacey came back and showed off how her book had been signed: with the capitalization corrected. (Note to readers who are not LJ volunteers: LiveJournal is properly capitalized with the internal capital on Journal as well.)

At last, I reached the front of the line. Mr. Munroe signed my book on my favorite. He'd been asking everyone what they do, since it was a geeky sort of event; he seemed surprised that someone could do both LiveJournal and Dreamwidth at the same time. There were a whole, whole bunch of LiveJournal and previous LiveJournal people there, with a good showing for Dreamwidth too. He was aware of Dreamwidth as one of the two majority female open source projects out there. :D

JD was next (and possibly last). He got Organic Fuel signed, with a bonus capping pun.

The whole train departed at this juncture: JD for his bus, and Stacey, Janine, and me for BART. We traversed the streets mostly without incident, save for one hysterical moment with a fellow in need of cash. "Donate to the United Negro Hamburger Fund?" he asked us, on Valencia heading for 16th Street. (Well, that's what Janine and Stacey report that he said, and my extrapolation supports that; I heard "Donate to the Uniteumumblkttkkhhhamburger Fund?", which is normal when it's outside with noise and dark and I can't lip-read.) The "SMILE" guy was nowhere to be seen. (Last week, there was a guy with a sign that said "SMILE", exhorting people to cheer up, and give him change. Having just finished a crying jag, I was in no mood to do so, but I did flip him a Vulcan salute.)

Once underground, we took our separate trains. I recognized and greeted someone from the signing just as my train arrived, then happily read the book on the train on the way home. I stopped in Daly City to advise the station attendant that there was either (hopefully) a spilled beverage or (ick) urine in the elevator to platforms 1 and 2, then drove off into the merry night.

[info - personal] janinedog's writeup:

For those who don't feel like watching the videos....


On designing the physical book: the front cover was charmingly plain, but doing the back plain would have been underkill; the montage was especially drawn. The guy on the laptop on the back is looking at the wikipedia page on red spiders.

The book has been a long time in coming; he decided this around comic 200. He was thinking 256 at first: 256, 512, etc. Unfortunately, the early comics were scanned in at low-resolution, so he had to go back and retrieve the paper version out of the folder he stores the originals in.

The early ones that had high-res versions mostly got lost in the shuffle in moving computers.

[cellphone interruption]

Reconstruction would have been a bear.

Cue the backup tale of woe. This was on a Linux laptop, using an ancient copy of Photoshop in WINE. Windows autobackup, heh. So he was putting it off, until such time as he built a proper tool for it. His sysadmin kept nagging him. He went to copy it from the Windows partition to the desktop; not enough room due to the huge Windows partition doing nothing. He decided to repartion; copy command was ready to go. Repartitioning took a while. He went to sleep; around 11am, while he was still asleep, someone broke through the window, stole the laptop and all the money from his wallet.

Since then, backups have been working properly.

The comic about breaking into Richard Stallman's house was one of the ones around that time.

So was this:

Simple concept, but the blue glow was a 4-hour job, and reconstruction was not really a good plan.

The concept of reconstruction was daunting; he kept putting it off until Alexis from Breadpig grabbed him by the ear.

He talked to publishers, but they had a sheen of "you come with me kid and I'll make you famous"; it did not appeal, and he was not sure what he needed the publishers for, as he already had an audience.

Basically, he really just needed to contact the printers.


At first, he had someone who knew about layouts to design the book. After watching that process, though, he decided it was time to take control. He read through the whole archives, and then remembered the title text. So he read through it again, this time with title text.

He selected his favorites. He didn't do up the book the proper way, but this is how he did it: a Photoshop file for each page, shuffled the comics around, and wrote the commentary.

The style for the commentary was inspired by 7 Years of Highly Defective People, where Scott Adams has red marginal notes about the comics. Randall took a stack of paper, made his commentary, scanned it, colored it red, and put it in. He sent off the PhotoShop files to someone, they put it together in a .pdf, and it got printed.

He first actually saw the book when it was being shipped to the bookstores.

He found things in the book that bug him: there is a section missing from a panel on page 10100; a traditional publisher's quality control might have spotted this.

The page numbers are a special thing that he put some effort into: at first you think they're binary, then you see a 2 and think it might be ternary; then you check; a functional programmer in the audience who are obsessed with proving things; they might figure it out. (I swing the camera to Tupshin.)

Question period is opened.


Someone thought they spotted a comic in the book that didn't have title test. All of the comics have title text; for a while the Wikipedia article said "almost all". Some of them are just an ellipsis, though. The book has title text, though some of them are two part comics with title text on only one.

Someone inaudible at the back of the room asked how it felt to be one of the trendsetters with punch line title text. Actually, he was following the lead of visionaries such as Dinosaur Comics, A Softer World, and Achewood. (Penny Arcade did not.)

He started title text around comic 50, and went back and did the old ones in one go. It's a strategic/competitive measure: if you notice the title text partway through the archive, you may re-read. Also, it makes you disappointed in comics that don't have it.

Plus it's fun.

Assumption: people won't read the title text; don't rely on it to explain the joke or make the joke rely on it. If the joke depends on it, work it into the front somehow.

What is his favorite? Well, sentimental works too. He did not include the comic numbers. One of his favorites is (He sees her every time he closes his eyes; is that dance move called the Typewriter, pre-Hammer?) He also likes the shark tagging one at the end of the book:

He read about a study that did something similar (no balloons); sharks were disappearing for 4 months; sharks tagged in the Atlantic were heading down to South America and chilling 400ft down; that was too deep for the cheap tags, so they designed them to pop to the surface. He imagined what could go wrong. :D

What are his favorite other webcomics? Perry Bible Fellowship; best gag writer in webcomics. Rare favorite: Buttercup Festival: whimsical, poorly scrawled Grim Reaper with idealism/sadism; experimental/strange. (Narrating comics is futile!) Clutch of motherless ducklings; he walks in the kitchen, up the counter, across the stove ... through the frying pan ... "maybe that was wrong" as he's eating. XKCD has influences/references to Buttercup Festival. Very hard to read handwriting; he made a script to download/upsample to read it on laptop.

XKCD has JSON interface for just that reason. :D


(overlapping some of the stuff from part 3: Buttercup Festival)

Who's this "we"? Derek is the sysadmin/business person; he avoids public appearances; he took over business stuff because Randall's not so good at it; he pushes merch and stuff.

Originally Derek was the guy he called who had a server. Originally it was hosted on a Pentium 1 off a cablemodem in his parents' house under the table in the kitchen next to where the dog slept; this was in 2006. [actually 2005. --Azz]

It was first intended to share with a few friends; a friend sent to a friend, the one that started circulating was (starts the book); he got an IM from someone who wanted to put it on his website; it was Cory Doctorow: is that OK? BOINGBONG. Vs. the server under the table next to the dog, some random linux distro he didn't know how to use.

TIME TO CALL DEREK. "There's a kind of nerd who has an attitude about things like that, that's sort of like: I'm sure that you're going to explain this later, but I'm sure it's important, so let's see if we can make that happen. ... I could call him up and say listen I need a helicopter to land at these coordinates; and I don't know that he would be able do it, but he would try with no questions asked."

He got it set up with the files, prepared for the bandwidth. The navigation was a mess: he spent a lot of time setting up browsing for new readers, there was a lot of traffic -- but he hadn't put the page live. But he got the readers and scanned & drew more.

Derek called about the hosting: you're not using the bandwidth: I set up all this bandwidth; I thought you said there was a hosting *challenge* here: I'm going to take down your hosting if you're not going to use it.

Randall rose to the occasion; Derek coded it. The site runs on a flat text file with the comic title, file name, title text, any links, special news. Pages are generated from this file.

BoingBoing created a few thousand visitors, and then there were some regular readers. He realized he could get readers by trolling Slashdot: putting the link in his signature.

He was frustrated with the flaws in the moderation system, but realized he could exploit it: it favors things that are there first.


Trolling on slashdot with his comic in his signature. Many rating systems have a weakness (including Reddit): put comments at the top if they have better rated up quota even if they haven't been there long: if that's not present, things that get there first get rated up, then they get seen by more people and get more chances to be rated up. If you get a comment in within 2-3 minutes and it's at all worthy of up-rating, it will float to the top.

He had the site autorefreshing looking for new articles, then would jump over, skim the summary, even load the article (hilarity), quickly make a relevant/smartass remark (smartass was easier); it would get voted up.

Each voted up got about 50 visitors; he would keep doing this and adding new things to the site to see how people liked it.

One thing he tried was a slight alteration -- the link was originally ", a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language". He registered a domain -- -- yes, that's going where you think it's going. is still live. :D

He changed it to ", a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, language, and hot girl-on-girl action", and that got about 100 visitors per comment.

He did that for a few weeks and got a few hundred people visiting regularly, then stopped promoting.

He then started to make it easy to use and link to; people promoting to their friends gets more than actual advertising.


My battery dies.


While I am fumbling with my batteries, my friend JD asks whether he reads the comments for the LJ feeds. And he does. There is sometimes some really interesting stuff in there. There was one guy back in the day who said BOOBIES all over the feed and stirred up stuff. (he didn't mention the boobies bit, but he said the name and we knew who he meant and that troll's habits.)


He reads the top level on Reddit when he's supposed to be doing something else. (Sorry about the camera jumping.) He reads enough to make sure there's nothing he should know about -- once he learned his site was down that way. ("Hey Derek, did I get you enough traffic?")

He doesn't do too many events like this. He does get feedback from his friends. Feedback is interesting but also intimidating; he doesn't often seek out too much of it; he tries to avoid it sometimes. Too much navel-gazing.

Once he's done four or five events he realizes we'll all be reading it, and he flees to the stuff in his sketchbook. He draws things that make him laugh and makes his friends laugh.

[lots of inaudible -- this must have been about things that don't make it into comics.]

He probably won't do this much again, but he had a projector and shared doodles from his sketchbook. He was a bit worried about time crunch, but the bookstore was saying no worries.

He was thinking about girafftershave, that will probably not make it in.

KITTY RUNNING THROUGH. comes into play.

Angband: the Pedophile of Galadriel (groaning and giggling) -- these are not going to go into comics. Really.

Tupshin pets the cat. All coherent thought stops. Tupshin gives the cat to Randall. The cat bats the water bottle lid. His hands smell of chalk as he just went rock climbing. Ripley pursues the lid on the floor. Hilarity. Cat has lost bottle cap.

He has no cat; his family has one though. There are some allergy issues; this cat is mostly ok but not totally allergen-free; the really allergen-free ones are like $4000. A cat that expensive would have too high expectations from him for entertainment:

That was entertaining, was it $3000 worth of entertaining? He has the same theory about kids.

Cat returns, interrupts all coherent thought. Questions for him? For the cat? Maybe he and the cat could sign the books? Ink on a paw? ... and the bookstore staff does not shoot this idea down. *DOOM*

Little footprints all over. There's a great quote about introducing new cats: they read about buttering the new cat's forehead so the existing cats would see new cat, lick new cat, taste like butter, friendly.

(Does it work for people? Yes it does, says Tupshin, grinning like, well, Tupshin.) "Buttering a cat is a very effective way to butter the rest of the house, and I think that ink is probably the same way."


Working with a queue -- maybe two people in the industry work with one, but just about everyone else works to the deadline, but with a stock of ideas. Currently he does have more than he's been putting up, so he does have things he could put up, but not a real queue.

The couple he was talking about were having a kid, and that made the queue necessary; they may not have that anymore.

Are any of the comics inspired by real life? Oh yes, but he does not want to out any of his friends as them inspiring comics, because people on the internet can be weird and hold opinions.

One of them is based on a real girl who is too bizarre for reality. She was at MIT, rappelling, jumping off buildings, caving, kickboxing, kite surfing, etc; all in the same day. Also built lasers as her day job.

Locked out of the house was him. Real story. Tried calling, no. Not on the computer. Log into the server, text to speech, volume is down. Trying to figure how to turn up the volume -- there is a way, working through the man page -- someone came by with a cell -- "Oh, the doorbell doesn't work?" ... (hilarity)

He doesn't recall whether he tried to save face or not. But the doorbell worked. He was trying to evolve a system to notify someone inside of someone outside needing in...

(Tupshin is petting the kitty in the background.)

Someone from Somerville wanted to know about an arcade, whether he missed it. (before his time) It was a bar/arcade, there was a riot. Not teenagers rioting, soccer moms. The bar was populated by soccer moms.

The kids were in the arcade, the kids lost, the moms got mad. The jocks were the ones generally who had that sort of news story; nice to see nerds getting that for once.

A friend of his was planning a nickel arcade, they *kitty jumps on table, Randall loses train of thought* had a, like, business model or something...


Contributing to other internet memes:

A couple of things. A ceiling cat picture: Ceiling Cat looking over an Ansel Adams type landscape, captioned "WHERE IS YOUR GOD NOW". Also Obama throwing a snowball and it hitting a kid.

(Ripley the cat is snuggling up to Tupshin; there is unbelievable Tupshin + cat cuteness.)

Some dude did four panels: Obama and guys, Obama picks up snow; Obama throws snow; toddler gets hit in face; Obama grinning.

Randall thinks: oh, all sorts of stuff in 3rd panel! made a whole series: cat getting hit...

(momentary qualms about the camera)

(Cat up on Tupshin's shoulder, cat rubs her face on Tupshin's face, Tupshin rubs his face on the cat, cuteness level is approaching maximum)

...other things happening...

(Cat starts seriously nomming Tupshin's shirt. "Hey! Chewing on my shirt!" Tupshin detaches cat, puts cat back on table.)

...someone knocked flying, ... more and more ... the Challenger explode ... the Kennedy motorcade ... one or two *after* that one. (No details given.)

Other people did other ones ... it turned into a meme.

creative process: 8pm is time to get started, midnight EST is post time. 9pm is crunch time. Varying amounts of work based on the idea, the time, the joke; sometimes takes all day. Will try not to change after 12:30; he is not so much the George Lucas. No Imperial Walkers in the early comics (even though that would be pretty cool). -- math errors.

Not to make jokes cooler -- like a stick figure missing an arm. Though he did have one like that:, Godwin's Law, the one-armed general with the pointer. Canon: only one arm!

There's the haiku proof comic: he was confident he knew it, did not check it; it was wrong: -- still thinking about correcting it, hasn't gotten around to it yet.

No one had emailed him yet about it.

The signing commenced.


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