Monday, June 23, 2014

FT Alphaville Recommends a Cartoon, Hilarity Ensues

It started simply enough.
A glance at the "Further Reading" post to see what David Keohane found of interest among recent news stories, blog posts and internet ephemera.

There, at the bottom of the list is the rather enigmatically titled - Krypton. with no descriptor but with a period, this being the Financial Times after all.

Mousing over the link, because really, who has time to actually click through unless they know what treasure awaits, we see it is xkcd/1384 and knowing Keohane's judgement to be sound, click through to be greeted with:
Title text: Their Sun and gravity will make you, uh, something, I guess. Out of earshot from Earth, mostly.

What the hell?
"Anybody know why this is funny? Anybody?"
"You got me." "Me too"
"What was that site that told you what an xkcd means"
"I dunno"
"Do you remember where to get xkcd translated."
Folks are now eying me rather warily.
"What? That's English, '...where to get xkcd translated'".
"Have you tried Explain xkcd?"

From Explain xkcd: 
This comic is an inverse version of the origin story of the superhero character Superman.
In the Superman story, Jor-El and his wife Lara notice that their home planet Krypton is about to be destroyed in a giant explosion, so they decide to send their baby Kal-El to Earth to save him - and there he becomes Superman.
In this comic, Cueball and Megan also notice that the planet Krypton is about to explode, but instead of attempting to save a baby from Krypton, they decide to send a baby to Krypton from Earth so that he'll stop annoying them with his crying.
In the fourth panel both spaceships can be seen. The rocket containing the Earth baby arrives at planet Krypton, while the crystal star shaped spaceship containing Kal-El leaves Krypton towards Earth - this is a reference to the version of the spaceship depicted in the 1978 Superman movie, (see trivia section).
In the fifth and last panel we see Krypton explode. (Unlikely, but it could be the impact of the rocket from Earth that makes Krypton explode. Maybe it would not have exploded if Cueball and Megan had not shipped the baby off?)
In the Superman movie, Kal-El carries with him a lot of information pre-recorded by his parents. During the very long trip he listens to the recordings, one of which explains that the Sun and gravity of Earth will give him (Kal-El) great powers (this is the way he becomes Superman). The title text is a satirical version of this information, given to the Earth baby during his trip: That Megan & Cueball do not have the faintest idea (or care about) what the sun and gravity of Krypton will do to him - but their best guess at what these mostly will do to him is to "make you out of earshot from Earth", which was their original reason for shipping the baby off in the first place.
While this may seem like an extreme reaction to a crying baby, people who have never experienced a child crying for a whole night may have no idea about what types of fantasies could go through one's head. During the long hours of the night, shipping the crying thing in to space may seem like a great idea. This comic could be seen as an illustration of this.

[edit] Transcript
[Cueball and Megan are standing near a telescope.]
Cueball: The distant planet Krypton is becoming unstable!
Baby crying (from outside the panel): Waaaaaa
Megan: That crying baby is really annoying.
[Cueball and Megan looking at each other]
[Spaceship taking off]
[Spaceship passing another spaceship on route to distant planet]
[Planet exploding]
[edit] Trivia
  • Whereas the Kal-El rocket clearly looks like the one in the 1978 Superman, a movie which is also the origin of the title text joke, the Earth baby rocket looks like any nondescript rocket. It has some features in common with the one used in 1350: Lorenz as can be seen here under the Rocket launch theme (color scheme the same, but different body of the rocket). One could also argue that it resembles some of the various versions of the rocket that brought Superman to earth as depicted in early comic books (Not that big a resemblance though, due to the very different tip and fins).
  • As the nearest stars are several light years away, this comic does of course not make any sense if you look at it from a scientific point of view. (But can still do if you don't!).
    • First of all - how would Cueball be able to see that Krypton is unstable in a telescope - as we at the moment can only just detect planets around other stars.
    • And even if he did detect this and immediately shipped his baby away in a close to light-speed rocket, then it would take several years to reach Krypton (at best - more likely to be somewhere between a hundred to a thousand years...)
      • Plus, because light takes time to travel, Cueball was seeing the planet as it was many years ago, meaning it had been unstable for some time already. So even for the closest star (exclusive of the earth's sun), it would be 4.3 years to see the instability and then over 4.3 more years (even with close to light speed travel) for the ship to travel, for a total of over 8.6 years from when the light left the planet until the rocket arrived there.
    • As faster than light-speed travel is impossible according to the current model of our universe this option is not really relevant here.
    • During all those years, the unstable planet should still keep together - in spite of being so unstable that Cueball can determine this instability with his telescope on Earth.
    • And then the rocket arrives just when Kal-El is being shipped the other way a few moments before the planet explodes. Of course if the arrival of the rocket causes the explosion this would explain the last two events. Kal-El is shipped off at the last moment when his parents realizes an incoming rocket will destroy their planet... That would actually be funny!
    • The previous remarks assume that Cueball and Megan are standing on Earth. The comic could be plausable if they are standing on a different planet in the same planetary system.
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Well there you go.
And here I go, into the Monday morning meeting.