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Times breaks out xkcd-to-English translator

You know you're famous when the Times comes calling

By Paul McNamara on Mon, 05/26/08 - 6:09am.

You don't need to be a computer programmer -- or even a geek -- to appreciate the Web comic xkcd ... on some days. On others, however, it's a virtual necessity.

(2010's 25 Geekiest 25th Anniversaries)

The New York Times this morning explains why in an aptly fawning profile of xkcd creator Randall Munroe, a 23-year-old who has become a cubicle staple since launching the strip from his apartment in Somerville, Mass. just over two years ago.

Here's a taste:

Mr. Munroe has become something of a cult hero. He counts himself as among the fewer than two dozen creators of comic strips on the Web who make a living at it.

At Google headquarters, a required stop on the geek-cult-hero speaking tour, he recently addressed hundreds of engineers, some of whom dutifully waited for him to sign their laptops. He said he had only wanted a tour of the place but had instead been invited to speak. The real thrill, he said, was that a hero of his, Donald Knuth, a professor emeritus of computer science at Stanford and a programming pioneer, was in the front row.

"It's comparable to Bill Gates's being in the front row," he said. "I got to have lunch with him. He's in his 70s, but people he is in touch with must have told him about it."

Here's the strip the Times chose to illustrate the story.

Although I've never written so much as one line of code, Buzzblog has been unable to resist the allure of xkcd, having featured the strip in posts such as:

(Update, Oct. 9, 2008: Even You Tube takes a page from xkcd.)

This one where he manages to tweak both Star Wars zealots and Ron Paul zombies.

This one where we're introduced to the new sport of "nerd sniping."

And this one that appeals to the inner child of every network security professional.

Munroe's work has elicited more than giggles from geeks. Stanford researchers last year conducted what they called the first comprehensive census of the "visible Internet" since 1982 and gave credit to an xkcd strip for inspiring the graphical presentation of their results:

These addresses appear in the chart as a grid of squares, each square representing all the addresses beginning with the same first number ("128," in the preceding example). The map is arranged in not in simple ascending numerical order, but instead in a looping pattern called a Hilbert curve, which keeps adjacent addresses physically near each other, and also makes it possible to zoom seamlessly in to show greater detail. "The idea of using a Hilbert curve actually came from a web comic, xkcd."

You can see that strip here.

It's quite a body of work for a guy who draws stick figures.

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