Creator of xkcd Reveals Backstory of His Epic 3,990-Panel Comic, “Time”

Randall Munroe, the man behind the xkcd web comic has been publishing to an ever-expanding comic called “Time” since March 2013. It finally saw its last addition last week, after four months of hourly updates. Munroe spoke with Wired about the backstory of “Time”:

“In my comic, our civilization is long gone. Every civilization with written records has existed for less than 5,000 years; it seems optimistic to hope that the current one will last for 10,000 more,” Munroe told WIRED. “And as astronomer Fred Hoyle has pointed out, since we’ve stripped away the easily-accessed fossil fuels, whatever civilization comes along next won’t be able to jump-start an industrial revolution the way we did.”

Although the comic takes place many millennia in the future, its setting is modeled on a geological event that took place more than 5 million years ago, when tectonic activity sealed off the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic Ocean, causing the sea to evaporate and leave a basin of dry land two miles below sea level. In Munroe’s comic, the same geologic shifts have reoccured in the distant future, and that’s where we find the characters when the comic opens: in the bottom of the desiccated Mediterranean Sea, building castles out of sand.

One of the most fascinating parts about “Time” was the community that developed around it:

The obsessive devotees of the comic-within-a-comic created a discussion thread that exceeded 1,300 pages, a “Time”-specific Wikipedia, and even made a glossary of the lexicon they invented to describe the world of “Time” and their experiences with it. While they refer to Munroe  simply as “OTA” (the One True Author), a “newpic” (plural: “newpix”) is defined as the unit of time that elapses between updates, also known as “outsider minutes.” True to its name, “Time”–where a single step could last an hour, and a night could last days–took on its own internal sense of chronological speed: glacially slow for animation, but imbued with a continual sense of motion that felt utterly unique for a comic.

Certainly one of the coolest online projects I’ve seen this year.

On Editing Wikipedia in Museums

As a self-professed Wikipedia junkie, I love that there are people going to museums on edit-athons. An awesome New York Times article dives deeper:

Amid this vast ocean of bewilderment, however, a small group of volunteers managed to expand the well of shared human knowledge last week by joining a daylong group editing session sponsored by Wikipedia and the Smithsonian Institution’s American Art Museum in Washington. The gathering — called an edit-athon — was the latest collaboration between the online encyclopedia and cathedrals of culture like the Smithsonian to expand and improve Wikipedia entries, which are subject to the vagaries of volunteer contributions. At the same time, the Smithsonian is able to better publicize what’s in its extensive collections.

“Wikipedia is driven by this desire to share knowledge freely with the world, and that is in sync with our mission,” said Sara Snyder, webmaster at the Archives of American Art, a Smithsonian research center that held an editing session in March to beef up the digital encyclopedia’s entries on female artists.

These amateur-professional collaborations began in 2010 as the brainchild of Liam Wyatt, a former bartender, fire twirler, podcaster and vice president of Wikimedia Australia, during an unpaid five-week stint as Wikipedian in residence at the British Museum. The following year, the Archives of American Art appointed its own Wikipedian in residence and organized an edit-athon, enlisting local volunteers to create new articles using the archives’ resources. Other institutions, including the New York Public Library, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and the Picasso Museum in Barcelona have joined what has been called the GLAM-Wiki initiative. (GLAM stands for galleries, libraries, archives and museums.)

And in case you didn’t know, there are super dedicated Wikipedia editors out there. Take Gerald Shields, for instance:

Mr. Shields said he generally edited articles on North Korea and on feminism, primarily because few other people do. He combs through the English-language version of The Pyongyang Times for citations, and last year, even spent part of a trip to China trying to track down a photograph of Ri Sol-ju, the wife of the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. At the museum, Mr. Shields, camera in hand, took on the role of the day’s official chronicler.

Don’t read the article if you aren’t prepared for a serious nerd alert.

The Most Intellectual Jokes Reddit Knows

This is a great thread on Reddit: the best intellectual jokes the members of the site know.

Here are three of my favorites:

1) It’s hard to explain puns to kleptomaniacs because they always take things literally.

The response is equally awesome: “I don’t get it but I’m stealing this one.” 

2) Q: What does the “B” in Benoit B. Mandelbrot stand for?

A: Benoit B. Mandelbrot.

3) Two chemists walk into a bar. The first says, “Can I have a glass of H2O.”

The second chemist says “Can I have a glass of water too.”

The first chemist broke down in tears – his assassination attempt had failed.

I also enjoyed the counterresponse to this joke:

A photon checks into a hotel and the bellhop asks him if he has any luggage. The Photon replies “No I’m traveling light”. One redditor’s response: “

I object to this on the grounds that photons experience no time within their own reference frame and therefore could not possibly respond. The best they could do is give a wave.”

Lots more nerdery here.


(hat tip: @legalnomads