Monday, October 7, 2013

The StratoRaptor

"The StratoRaptor" -- StratPlayer's avatar

Here's a question that I'm sure is burning in the minds of the multitude of my loyal readers:

So what's up with your avatar?

Well, before I begin, let me clarify by stating that I've never actually had a multitude of readers, let alone a loyal one.  I've been too erratic of a blogger for far too long, and now I've even completely rebooted my whole blogging presence with a brand new blog, which reset my follower count back to zero, and the much-appreciated handful of followers who've signed up on this blog is significantly less than a multitude, plus I only had 146 followers back on the previous blog, which is still several orders of magnitude less than a "multitude," I would say, and probably most of them rarely visited because I seldom posted, and then I more or less totally fell off the edge of the blogging world, letting my old blog become a stagnant, empty, and lifeless husk of forgotten posts and neglected dreams, abandoned and left to wither and die in the cold, cold depths of the unforgiving Internet aether.

...but I digress...

Where was I? Ah, yes -- the avatar.  OK, since you asked, let me explain (sorry, but it's going to be a long explanation):

My avatar is a velociraptor with a Stratocaster guitar.  I call it the "StratoRaptor." Yes, I play guitar, and I'm probably old enough that some of you might consider me a dinosaur.  But that's not why I made it. I created it last March, when I signed up as "StratPlayer" on the xkcd forum. 

For those of you who don't know, xkcd is a webcomic created by Randall Munroe, popular with techs, geeks, and nerds.  And yes, as an Electrical Engineer with a background in programming, I qualify as a member of the target audience. The xkcd comic focuses on humor related to technology, computers, the internet, and other things popular with the target audience.  It's a pretty well-known comic.  Google it to see.  Go ahead -- I'll wait...

Back now?  Great!  See?  As geeky webcomics go, it's one of the best ones, I think.

Well, I've been a silent fan of xkcd for years, but never really touched the forums until I was finally prompted to sign up.  And when I did, I wanted to create a forum avatar that highlighted my "StratPlayer" name, but also went along with the xkcd world.  And a velociraptor certainly qualifies -- it's a frequent meme in that comic.  So I GIMP'ed this avatar together.  (GIMP is a free image manipulation software package.  It's basically the cheap person's Photoshop).

So what prompted me to sign up?  At first, I just wanted to say "great job!" to Randall for a particular comic I really enjoyed.  Then, between March 28th and August 1st, I ended up making 829 posts on the forum, all in one thread -- the thread dedicated to the discussion of that comic, 1190: "Time".  Look at it now and you'll just see an image of a raft resting on a beach with some trees -- but there is so much more to this comic.

Randall's done some incredible things with xkcd, a webcomic that's typically just basic stick figures.  In the past he's created many huge, incredibly detailed charts and in 1110: "Click and Drag" he made an enormous world that was viewable only in a tiny window -- you had to click and drag the lower image for hours to be able to see it all.  People spent days documenting all the amazing detail that was in that comic. Here's a zoom-able image that shows the whole thing.  You can zoom in and out a little quicker than clicking and dragging as in the original comic.  Impressive isn't it?

But as impressive as the work he's done before, "Time" was massive and epic in scope, even for Randall.  It was essentially a slow-motion movie that covered 3,099 separately drawn comics, with the image updating every hour (initially every half-hour).  But there was no indication that it was a movie -- the alt-text over the comic simply said "Wait For It."  Then slowly, it became apparent that the images were changing.  Each new frame had just a slight variation.  The updates were automatic scripted and occurred from an encrypted source -- no-one was able to hack it to see the future frames (and the xkcd audience is no slackers when it comes to decrypting).  The story went from an image of two figures on the beach, to them building a giant multi-level sand castle, to awareness of a rising sea, a protracted journey of discovery about why the sea was rising, and then an adventurous race to try and save a group of people from an impending flood.  As the story unfolded, subtle clues were given, such as a highly detailed night sky that revealed that the placement of the stars was off -- because the story was set far, far in the future, and highlighted the fact that over a geological scale, the Mediterranean Sea periodically becomes land-locked and dries up, then eventually refills again through the Straits of Gibraltar in what's known as the Zanclean Flood.

Here are some resources to view "Time" -- "Time at Your Own Pace" , Aubron's Viewer and the wiki. Yes, it has its own wiki...

The comic was incredible, and the forum dedicated to the discussion of that comic?  Absolutely mind-boggling -- I've never seen anything like it.  Essentially an entire culture erupted there, with posters from around the world, with a pseudo religion or three, in-jokes, thoughtful and yet irreverent and hilarious discussion, a glossary, a dedicated wiki, and amazingly -- not a single flame war.

And I was part of it. Big time -- it completely sucked me in.  During most of the comic's unfolding, I was a top-ten poster, and top-five during much of it.

So what does that have to do with a blog which focuses on my creative outlets?  Quite a bit, I think.

For one thing, I think the comic itself was incredibly creative, and I'm not alone in my opinion.  Google "xkcd Time" and see all the discussion about it.  So I certainly want to commend Randall Munroe for that creativity.

But in a lot of ways, Randall's creativity in making the comic was nothing compared to the creativity shown in the discussion thread itself -- the One True Thread (OTT) dedicated to the One True Comic (OTC).  Stories were told, animation and images were created and manipulated, amazing charts and data analysis was done on every pixel of every frame, lyrics were written, and songs were sung.  And avatars were hatted -- don't ask why; it seemed to make sense at the time.  Here's mine, hatted by forum member "buffygirl:"

StratPlayer xkcd avatar -- Hatted by buffygirl

Just so much more amazing creativity occurred in that thread. Here's my avatar as it reappeared in a xkcd Time forum parody retelling of the Discovery Channel song "Boom De Yada (The World is Just Awesome)" drawn by forum member "Blitz Girl".  The "It" is the It we were all waiting for, from the "Wait for it" in the comic's alt-text.

StratPlayer avatar from "Boom De Yada" by Blitzgirl

So what did I do to add my own creativity to the OTT?  I joked, punned, wrote a poem or two (haiku was particularly huge for a while), helped create the Knights Temporal, and made multiple parodies of song lyrics dedicated to the comic and thread.  The list of filks (as they're known in some circles) or OTT-ifications (as they were known on the thread) can be found here on the wiki page.  Mine are under the name "StratPlayer," as you might expect.

I also started using the recurring phrase "It's all related!" and soon came up with a way to prove it.  In many posts, I'd create a valid series of actual relationships to show that almost anything can be related to anything else.  Here's the last one I did on the thread that showed how a comic Randall did about a PC program called the Korbal Space Program can be related to the comic "Time" (click on the Spoiler to see the connections):

Fun, huh?

"Time" lasted from March 24th through the final ending panel on July 29th. The discussion thread was over 1,300 pages at that time.  I lasted a little while longer, but then eventually moved on. 

But you know what?  The thread is still going -- it's over 1,500 pages now.  They've created and programmed a PC game dedicated to the comic and continued to make numerous other drawings, art, stories, filks, and songs.  I salute their dedication and creativity, but for me, it felt a little like the audience sitting around in the lit auditorium well after the movie had ended.  Maybe I'm wrong to be so involved in something and then just fade away afterwards. Don't get me wrong -- it was fun and creative and I really, really enjoyed it while it was "live."  I will certainly remember it fondly, and I really appreciated all the other posters that made that thread such a unique, creative, and special place.

But for me, it just felt kind of weird to me to be sticking around after the fact. Still -- who knows? Maybe I'll pop in again sometime and say hello...

So that's the story behind my new StratoRaptor avatar.  Aren't you glad you asked? 

Wait -- You didn't ask? Huh...  I coulda swore someone did...


  1. Almost 3100 frames and updated hourly to show movement? Now that is impressive.
    If I ever changed my icon it would become Mini-Alex with his guitar.

  2. I think this was a great topic for a post because you actually had so much to share about it!

    I stuck with the zoomable graphic for about seven upward drags. :)

  3. What a fantastic post. I don't think people give nearly enough thought to their avatar. Obviously you have given it a LOT!

  4. Chris, a lot your post went technically over my head. But my brother-in-law's email address includes "stratplayer" as part of his user name, so I got that part! :D And I'm glad you're back to blogging even if it is part time. I joined back up!

  5. @Alex: It is impressive, I think. And think the guitar-playing mini-Alex is absolutely the avatar for you! :)

    @Suze: Thanks! Yeah -- it's easy to get lost in some of the larger pieces Munroe has made, and for many people, that might not seem like a fun thing to do. ;^). Admittedly, xkcd is a comic and a site that's not going to appeal to everyone, but I like how many different things Randall can do with a webcomic of stick-figures.

    @Kate: Thank you! Well, actually, there wasn't a tremendous amount of thought about the actual avatar -- a velociraptor playing guitar just seemed cool and appropriate for the site, and now I've grown to like it enough to use as my general avatar. I thought people might wonder about it so I made this post. Plus I also wanted to touch on how much creative effort went into both the xkcd 1190: Time comic, and all the incredible things that were posted on the discussion thread about that one comic. Concentrated effort from creative nerds can be both amazing and head-scratching, lol!

    @Dianne: Thanks for joining back up -- I really appreciate it! And sorry to make the post so nerd-centric -- I promise not to do that too often, lol!

  6. Loved hearing the story behind your avatar! The xkcd community sounds like a great community to be in.

  7. Well, now you have 10 followers...

    Thanks for commenting on my blog. I really appreciated your comments on my writing. And I also love Slaughterhouse Five.

    I think my 26-year-old son would love that xkcd comic site (he's probably already seen it) but most of it's over my head, as is most of your post. I do understand what a genius Randall Munroe is and how amazing it is that "Time" has its own wiki!

    Carry on!

  8. @Belle: Thanks! And although I've since moved on, it was absolutely a great thing to have been a part of.

    @Joanne: Thank you very much! And carry on, I shall!

  9. I've read xkcd in the past. I have a friend who constantly sent me links to individual comics and still occasionally does. When he first was on the scene, there was such a deep charm about what he was doing. His work ranks as a classic in my book.

  10. @Suze: I agree -- his early work was much more vulnerable and introspective. "Deep charm" is a good way to describe. But I think he's really grown creatively since then and while the subject matter is less personal and the presentation more slick, I do enjoy his work. And every now and then he'll blow you out of the water with an epic creation like "Click and Drag" or "Time"


Don't be shy -- feel free to comment. I really appreciate your thoughts.