0638: "The Search"

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0638: "The Search"

Postby nomulous » Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:00 am UTC

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http://xkcd.com/638/


title="I am so excited about the Kepler mission. This is the second most important thing our species has ever done, right behind inventing the concept of delivery pizza."

Can I propose that in the future we call the "alt" text by its true name, title? Does this drive anyone else crazy?
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby dennisw » Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:03 am UTC

Damn, I think I just poured Amdro all over that colony!
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby glasnt » Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:04 am UTC

I always thought it was an Alt text, because it displays like it. I only just checked the source code now, and it is indeed 'Title' text. But it's not a title! The text doesn't read 'The Search', therefore it is not a title.

Hi joee. 8)
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby joee » Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:07 am UTC

hi glasnt!

Interesting, randall. how *will* we know we've discovered sentient life?
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby Duban » Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:08 am UTC

So true. Randell Get out of my head!
Last edited by Duban on Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:10 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby sourmìlk » Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:08 am UTC

Commentary on our extra-terrestrial search efforts as well as extremely funny. Good job randal :)

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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby nomulous » Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:09 am UTC

glasnt wrote:I always thought it was an Alt text, because it displays like it. I only just checked the source code now, and it is indeed 'Title' text. But it's not a title! The text doesn't read 'The Search', therefore it is not a title.


Maybe it just bothers me because I speak more HTML than English. You know it's bad when you start seeing HTML tags in your own hand-written notes and stuff.
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby '; DROP DATABASE;-- » Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:09 am UTC

Don't they wonder what keeps dropping food and stepping on them? >_>
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby Nasaniaru » Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:10 am UTC

Wow. Been a while since a thought provoking comic such as this has come up. I'm going to now go and research up this Kepler mission.
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby glasnt » Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:10 am UTC

'; DROP DATABASE;-- wrote:Don't they wonder what keeps dropping food and stepping on them? >_>

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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby Steve the Pocket » Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:13 am UTC

nomulous wrote:Can I propose that in the future we call the "alt" text by its true name, title? Does this drive anyone else crazy?

glasnt wrote:I always thought it was an Alt text, because it displays like it. I only just checked the source code now, and it is indeed 'Title' text. But it's not a title! The text doesn't read 'The Search', therefore it is not a title.

Indeed, it's more of an Easter egg than anything. In fact, real alt text functions more like a title... or caption... GAH! If I start listing everything that's illogical about HTML semantics, I'll be here all night. I mean, I will anyway, but that's because I've got three TV Tropes tabs open. But I digress. This comic is genius. I propose showing this to any friends who think SETI isn't a huge waste of money.
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby Comic JK » Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:14 am UTC

"Dozens of floor tiles"...priceless. But I think that the effect of humans would be pretty noticeable for ants. Even if they couldn't communicate with us, they would see our actions and know that something was up there. It's reminiscent of an Arthur C. Clarke story in which astronomers spot some stars that are just jumping around for no reason. They're forced to conclude that there is intelligent life out there--and that it's much, much more advanced than us.

If you don't like to call it title-text--since, you're right, it usually isn't used for title of an image--call it a tooltip, as in this xkcd.
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby aeris92 » Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:16 am UTC

nomulous wrote:Can I propose that in the future we call the "alt" text by its true name, title? Does this drive anyone else crazy?


yeah i realized that a while back, and started referring to it as title text in posts and threads.

btw, so the ants dont sense a presense of humans?
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby theropissed » Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:18 am UTC

The ants also received a strong pheromone scent one day, very short trail, they labeled it the "wow scent"...........and thats all i got. i had the joke constructed in my head, but then i saw boobies.
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby ShemTealeaf » Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:28 am UTC

The alt text reminds me of the opening of Snow Crash.
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby msimswil » Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:28 am UTC

DROP DATABASE wrote:Don't they wonder what keeps dropping food and stepping on them?

Many of us call it "God".

I like the comic, although don't necessarily agree with the implication that ant colonies (prior to this one) are not sentient. I'm not saying they are or aren't; just that we have no way of knowing for sure because we cannot communicate meaningfully with ants (yes... that's the whole point of the comic, in a sense).

I'm also reminded of the Flatland construct. Many here will already be familiar with it. I find it fascinating, and a good parable to use when explaining higher-dimensional universes. If you're from Flatland (or Krickitt :lol:) then 'dropping food' is meaningless, because there's no up or down.

Google "Flatland" if you don't know what I'm on about. It's interesting. I can't post links yet without incurring Modwrath.
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby suso » Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:30 am UTC

Nice one Randall. That's a pretty good analogy. XKCD has been kinda dry lately, glad to see one with some meaning. Or at least meaning to me.
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby suso » Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:33 am UTC

ShemTealeaf wrote:The alt text reminds me of the opening of Snow Crash.


It it were Snow Crash, there would have been 20 paragraphs of alt text explaining exactly what the floor tiles looked like and why they matter.
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby chridd » Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:36 am UTC

'; DROP DATABASE;-- wrote:Don't they wonder what keeps dropping food and stepping on them? >_>

Perhaps they think it's unintelligent life?

glasnt wrote:I always thought it was an Alt text, because it displays like it.

On my browser, at least, alt text doesn't display as a tooltip.
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby foodeater184 » Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:51 am UTC

It's no longer them searching for us, it's us searching for them. Good comic
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby Brooklynxman » Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:51 am UTC

The alt text (it prefers to be called an alt american, but alas, Im html-ist) is so true, pizza delivery is our entry to the pantheon of great galactic civilizations.
We figure out what all this means, then do something large and violent

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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby wombattheory » Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:52 am UTC

I feel the ant colony as a whole would be sentient, not the individual ants. Hofstadter suggests we simply need an anteater ambassador.
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby Crius » Fri Sep 18, 2009 4:55 am UTC

chridd wrote:
'; DROP DATABASE;-- wrote:Don't they wonder what keeps dropping food and stepping on them? >_>

Perhaps they think it's unintelligent life?


Maybe it's just like weather to them - something that just happens, not associated with any life or intelligence.
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby westrim » Fri Sep 18, 2009 5:00 am UTC

msimswil wrote: I like the comic, although don't necessarily agree with the implication that ant colonies (prior to this one) are not sentient. I'm not saying they are or aren't; just that we have no way of knowing for sure because we cannot communicate meaningfully with ants (yes... that's the whole point of the comic, in a sense).


Actually we do have a way, namely size. They just aren't big enough to have brains that can develop sapience (which is intelligence) or sentience (which is consciousness).
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby dennisw » Fri Sep 18, 2009 5:03 am UTC

The point of the comic has everything to do with what "wavelength" they are performing their search on. In their case it's "pheromones" and they miss us because we are communicating on "footsteps" and "dropped food". It's not that they aren't aware of these occurrences - it's that they don't associate them with intelligence. It could be that we are also performing SETI on the wrong "wavelength".
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby Eternal Density » Fri Sep 18, 2009 5:14 am UTC

This comic makes a good point. In our case, we are looking for intelligence out in space, and are missing the signs of it that are a lot closer than the floor tiles. What's the point of looking for signs of intelligence in space static when we don't acknowledge in in our own DNA.
(Disclaimer: I do not believe in the existence of 'life on other planets'.)

[edit]Oh, and I should mention that I think this is the most decent xkcd we've had in a while.
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby Quicksilver » Fri Sep 18, 2009 5:19 am UTC

Woah, nice reference to delivering pizzas. That's my job, don't I feel special :D
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby Daggoth » Fri Sep 18, 2009 5:20 am UTC

They are sentient AND aware of us. They are simply plotting silently and patiently waiting for the right moment to attack
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby BatmanAoD » Fri Sep 18, 2009 5:20 am UTC

Awesome comic! It's always sort of bugged me that we seem to assume that if intelligent life exists elsewhere, it's going to be trying to contact us in exactly the same ways as we're trying to contact it.

Not to mention that the Pioneer Plaque should have been designed to be decipherable by a two-year-old, but to be honest if we discovered it and didn't know what it was, it would probably take our best code-breakers to even figure out half of what's going on in that stupid picture. (Okay, the solar system picture is pretty obvious, but what do the symbols above and below the planets represent?)
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby Cynical Idealist » Fri Sep 18, 2009 5:23 am UTC

glasnt wrote:I always thought it was an Alt text, because it displays like it. I only just checked the source code now, and it is indeed 'Title' text. But it's not a title! The text doesn't read 'The Search', therefore it is not a title.

Hi joee. 8)

Alt text doesn't display on mouseover.

Well, not in any decent browser. Even IE has stopped improperly displaying alt-text with a tooltip.
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby cipher » Fri Sep 18, 2009 5:23 am UTC

Their universe shows obvious signs of being shaped by consciousness, and they do not have an explanation of how it was shaped, except by consciousness. Our universe, not so apparent.
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby Storm » Fri Sep 18, 2009 5:27 am UTC

After enjoying this comic and title text, I proceeded to go check up the NASA site for the Kepler mission which I had yet to visit. http://kepler.nasa.gov/ You'd think that with NASA's budget they could afford to make a nicer website. This is official right?
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby westrim » Fri Sep 18, 2009 5:31 am UTC

Eternal Density wrote:This comic makes a good point. In our case, we are looking for intelligence out in space, and are missing the signs of it that are a lot closer than the floor tiles. What's the point of looking for signs of intelligence in space static when we don't acknowledge it in our own DNA.
(Disclaimer: I do not believe in the existence of 'life on other planets'.)

[edit]Oh, and I should mention that I think this is the most decent xkcd we've had in a while.


What do you mean our DNA? And why don't you- oh. OH. Well, I probably shouldn't be touching this with 3 meter pole, being an agnostic and all, but I feel I have to ask; If we were designed so intelligently, why does our plumbing suck? And wisdom teeth. And- no, I'm going to stop now.
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby BeskarKomrk » Fri Sep 18, 2009 5:55 am UTC

Good one. Nice to see a new comic that really has some meaning to it. This one didn't make me laugh so much as make me go "huh". But that isn't a bad thing.
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby Istaro » Fri Sep 18, 2009 6:04 am UTC

Eternal Density wrote:(Disclaimer: I do not believe in the existence of 'life on other planets'.)


Wow! That's a pretty enormous thing to say. So you're thinking that of all the <insert number too large for either of us to comprehend> planets in the universe besides ours, not a single one has any self-replicating, changing patterns of matter? I salute your boldness, if not your logic.

Superficially unrelated, but this kinda reminds me of the people who say "computers will never be able to do X anywhere close to well as humans". I generally get the feeling they don't really understand how long "never" actually is.
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby Simplex » Fri Sep 18, 2009 6:11 am UTC

Awesome comic, love it, way to go on the paradigm shift for peoples points of perspective.

I feel the ant colony as a whole would be sentient, not the individual ants. Hofstadter suggests we simply need an anteater ambassador.


I really should read G.E.B again, it's been a while. Too many other non fiction books i want to read, not enough hours in the day :(
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby FitzNighteyes » Fri Sep 18, 2009 6:12 am UTC

Kepler mission is at the top of Google Hot Trends right now. http://www.google.com/trends/hottrends

Way to top the charts again. :)
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby Qwert » Fri Sep 18, 2009 6:26 am UTC

On the whole alt/title thing:
  • The alt attribute is to be used as the text that displays if the image doesn't load, can't be displayed, or if images are disabled. For example, the alt text for this comic is 'The Search'.
  • The title attribute is used to display a tooltip over the image when you hover over it. The 'alt' text in xkcd comics is a perfect example of what the title attribute is for.

IE 6 incorrectly displayed the alt text as a tooltip, leading web designers to use it incorrectly, until the title attribute became widely supported.


And on topic: wasn't there some theory that basically stated that the window for us to receive radio communications from another civilization is really narrow because radio will be replaced by some other form of communication, like lasers?
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby LTK » Fri Sep 18, 2009 6:48 am UTC

Comic was funny, but the mouseover text was lost on me. I guess ant colonies as a whole (or maybe just the queen) can be considered intelligent, or maybe even sentient, but they have a limited sensory range. I'm speculating here that an individual can only perceive that which enables him to function in the colony, such as pheromones, food, and enemies. All three have a smell, so most ants are blind, too.
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Re: "The Search" Discussion

Postby Pseudonym » Fri Sep 18, 2009 6:49 am UTC

BatmanAoD wrote:Awesome comic! It's always sort of bugged me that we seem to assume that if intelligent life exists elsewhere, it's going to be trying to contact us in exactly the same ways as we're trying to contact it.

No, we're not assuming they're trying to contact us at all, which is why this comic annoys me so much, as well as the previous one like it. Quite frankly, Randall is being a bit of an idiot here. We are not looking for 'pheromones', we are looking for evidence of widespread, controlled usage on a planet of one of the fundamental forces of nature, which is useful for a great many things and doesn't really have any good substitutes in most of those areas. Reality is not bad science fiction. You cannot have instantaneous global communication...but with smoke signals.

It is not at all unreasonable to assume that any "sufficiently technologically advanced" society is going to be indiscriminately spewing a decent bit of electromagnetic radiation into space. You could reasonably point out that there's probably plenty of intelligent species which haven't gotten or won't get far enough technologically to result in such a sign, but we've got to search for something. We can't just tell our telescopes 'find me the closest civilization' and have it work like magic. You could also complain that we might be looking in the wrong wavelengths, which is a far more sensible complaint. But people dismissing the basic idea of these searches are being 'open-minded' about advanced alien civilizations the way homoepathy advocates are 'open-minded' about medicine; by largely ignoring most of what we know about the universe.
Not to mention that the Pioneer Plaque should have been designed to be decipherable by a two-year-old, but to be honest if we discovered it and didn't know what it was, it would probably take our best code-breakers to even figure out half of what's going on in that stupid picture. (Okay, the solar system picture is pretty obvious, but what do the symbols above and below the planets represent?)

You really don't seem to have put any significant amount of thought into this, unlike the people who made the plaque. Sure, they could make it decipherable by a two-year-old, but then it'd only be so by means of things specific to human cultures and humanity as a whole. It's designed so that any society that has sufficient knowledge of certain parts of physics and astronomy can figure it out eventually. It's not a message from scientists to two-year-olds, it's a message from scientists to scientists, using parts of the universe itself to convey concepts. As for what it's saying, as usual, Wikipedia has a helpful article on the subject.
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