Irregular Webcomic! #2205 Rerun

Comic #2205

If a yeti tells you that something is beside the point, it doesn't pay to argue.

2021-09-12 Rerun commentary: The yeti is one of the top two classic cryptids of cryptozoology, along with the Loch Ness Monster. I guess it says something about my interest in the unexplained that both feature heavily in my comics. I guess Bigfoot is the next one, which has only been mentioned in passing. So far.

Irregular Webcomic! #2204 Rerun

Comic #2204

I decided that I have enough Lego monkeys that one of them could make the ultimate sacrifice and lose its tail, so that it could become a chimpanzee, for scenes where Jane Goodall interacts with chimps. Previously I've just hand-waved away the fact that the "chimps" all had tails.

I did the deed with a pair of heavy-duty pliers and trimmed with a craft knife.

Evolution does not work like this in real life, by the way.

2021-09-11 Rerun commentary: Huh. I wonder where that modified monkey/chimp is now. I guess it's in the storage box with the other monkeys, but I haven't noticed it for several years now. Notice the subtle "Who in hell" joke in the first panel? And so here's an interesting question: If you came across your younger self, would you immediately recognise yourself? How young would your younger self need to be before you didn't recognise them?

Irregular Webcomic! #4600

Comic #4600

Acting is a dangerous business, what with all these tragic acting accidents. I was trying to think of some other activities with similar danger levels to acting that I could facetiously say also suffer from tragic accidents, but every activity I can think of is actually more credible to have a tragic accident while doing it. Tragic gardening accident? Visions of lawnmowers and wood chippers. Tragic dish washing accident? Sharp knives and stabby implements. Tragic dog walking accident? Dog lead gets caught in a speeding bicycle. (I have nightmares about this one when walking my dog and cyclists go past on narrow paths. Seriously, get off your bike and walk it.) Tragic crossword puzzle accident? That one word you just don't know that will haunt you for the rest of your days...

Irregular Webcomic! #4599

Comic #4599

Do vampires show up in night vision goggles? Good question... I guess they're going to find out! It's not even generally agreed if vampires are warm like mammals, or essentially ambient temperature, like a dead body. A brief search turned up this fascinating thread on Straight Dope, in which people argue from multiple different, more or less scientific, premises and come up with wildly diverging answers. Some even conclude that vampires must be hotter than living mammals, while others think they're abnormally cold enough to have water constantly condensing on them. Of course the legends from various folk traditions around vampires are also wildly divergent. Some say that vampires are abnormally warm because of all the blood in them, while others say they are chilly to the touch. In short, it seems that rather than definitively accepting just one type of vampire, science supports all the different legends of vampires.

Irregular Webcomic! #4598

Comic #4598

I'm not sure if everyone reading this knows what moxie is. If you didn't, now you do. I first encountered this word when playing the roleplaying game Paranoia (1st edition), which uses Moxie as one of the basic character attributes, along with Strength, Endurance, Agility, Manual Dexterity, Chutzpah, Mechanical Aptitude, and Power Index (for using mutant powers). Later editions of the game changed this list. It's a very US-specific slang word, and somewhat outdated as well, which is why I expect a significant portion of this audience might not have met it before.

Irregular Webcomic! #4596

Comic #4596

So the gang split up after leaving Hoth. Luke goes off to Dagobah, meets Yoda, and trains to become a Jedi for... some amount of time that isn't very clear. Meanwhile, Han and Leia and Chewie do some shenanigans in an asteroid field with the Empire, which takes maybe a few hours, then they go to Bespin and meet Lando. They go to dinner and get captured by Darth Vader. Total time elapsed: perhaps two days. We never see any indication whatsoever of people sleeping or days passing, so it might even be the same day. Luke gets a vision that his friends are in trouble and leaves his training to go save them. So... he's been training with Yoda for... maybe two days? He must be a really fast learner.

Irregular Webcomic! #2203 Rerun

Comic #2203

35mm movie film Have you ever wondered about movie soundtracks? How they put them on to the movie film?

You probably know that movies are printed on to long reels of film, which are run through a projector. (That is, movies that aren't projected with newfangled digital technology, which is still most of them.) One common movie film format is 35mm film - which is exactly the same size as the ubiquitous and popular 35mm camera film that we used to use before photography went all digital. Even now, when most people have converted to digital photography, you can still find 35mm camera film easily, in all photographic shops and most supermarkets. It's called 35mm film because it is 35 millimetres wide.

35mm film looks like the first image shown here, at top. This is a small piece - the film normally extends in a long strip, or roll, up and down as this image is oriented. The holes are sprocket holes, into which mechanical pins mounted on small wheels fit, and which drive the film forwards or backwards when the wheels turn. This is used to wind the film on in a camera, or to pull the film through a movie projector.

The second image shows what a piece of 35mm film looks like when it has a movie printed on it. Successive frames of the movie appear one above the other. You'll notice in this image that the picture is stretched vertically. This is how wide-screen movies are printed - it's called anamorphic printing. A special "anamorphic" lens on the movie projector stretches the image horizontally so it restores the correct aspect ratio and fills a wide-screen format.

Okay, that's the pictures. What about the sound? Where is that?

The sound is actually printed on the film, right next to the pictures. See the two wiggly white lines between the sprocket holes and the left side of the images? That's the soundtrack. It looks like the cross section of a record groove.

[Records, for those people younger than about 30 years old, were the precursors of compact discs. They stored sound information in finely scratched grooves on the surface of a vinyl disc, up to two and a half times the diameter of a CD. The sound was recovered by rotating the disc and letting a needle rest on the surface, scraping along one of the spiral grooves. The fine wiggles in the groove vibrated the needle at precisely the right frequencies to reproduce the intended sound, and electronics amplified the sound through speakers. Believe it or not, this stone-age-sounding technology actually worked, and kids in the 1970s and 1980s grooved to the latest music by this method. (This is where the terms "grooving" and "groovy" come from, by the way: record grooves. Seriously.)]

So, the wiggles in the soundtrack encode sound in pretty much the same way that record grooves do. Instead of being picked up by a needle, it's picked up by a small light that shines through the film. The white part of the sound track is actually transparent, and the amount of light passing through it changes as the wiggles run through the film projector. A light sensor picks up the variations in light intensity, and amplifies it and sends the signal to speakers. And there's your movie sound!

At least that's how soundtracks worked originally. Record grooves, and the soundtrack described above, are analogue recordings of the sound. Nowadays everything is going digital, for the reason that digitally reproduced sound can be cleaner and more resistant to things like scratches in your record (or on your film). So some years back, film studios began adding a digital soundtrack to films as well. Where did they put it? With the movie frames and the analogue soundtrack using up all the space in the strip between the two rows of sprocket holes, they stuck it in the row of sprocket holes, in between the individual holes.

See the pattern of dots between the sprocket holes? You can see it better in the enlargement at the bottom. Notice also the D and reversed D logo in the middle of the square - this is the Dolby Digital soundtrack. The pattern of dots is a digital encoding of the sound for this point in the movie. It's read in a similar way to the analogue soundtrack, using a light source shining through the film and projecting the pattern of dots on to a sensor. The sensor passes the data on to a Dolby Digital processor, which decodes the dots into the sound. Notice that this placement of the Dolby Digital soundtrack leaves the analogue soundtrack where it was. This is important for backwards compatibility with older movie projectors which still use analogue sound.

Now Dolby Digital is actually a fairly old digital sound technology. Several newer digital sound encoding schemes have since been invented, which have a higher data density, and thus a better sound reproduction. So there's reason to upgrade and add those too, while still maintaining backwards compatibility for analogue and Dolby Digital projectors. One new format is Sony Dynamic Digital Sound, or SDDS. Where can we put that, remembering it has to carry more data than Dolby Digital, so needs more space?

See the blue strips of dots running along the outside edge of both sets of sprocket holes? Yep, that's the SDDS soundtrack.

And then we want to add DTS, yet another digital sound format. By now, however, there's no space left to actually stick the required data on to the film. The solution is to include the DTS soundtrack of a movie as a separate digital file. The drawback of this method is that the sound is no longer automatically synchronised with the movie, by being printed right next to the frames where it occurs. You need a way to synchronise the sound to the pictures. Fortunately, there's just enough space left on the film to squeeze in one more tiny bit of data, in between the analogue soundtrack and the picture frames.

The narrow blue and white strip at the right edge of the enlargement is just a series of large dots, but that's all you need as a time signal to synchronise an external soundtrack. And that's how the DTS soundtrack is synchronised to the images. So this piece of film contains not one, but four completely different and separate sound encoding schemes, and can be used on any movie projector that supports any one of them. Pretty cool, huh?

This has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with today's comic. I just thought it was so interesting that I had an urge to share it.

The images are:

2021-09-05 Rerun commentary: Weirdly, since this comic and annotation were originally published in 2009, there has been a significant revival in vinyl LP record sales and culture, and CDs have virtually vanished with the now almost complete dominance of digital song downloads and music streaming services. Which means that if I were to write this annotation now, I'd probably take the time to explain what a CD is, and not explain what a record is. It's a curious world we live in.

Irregular Webcomic! #2202 Rerun

Comic #2202

Apparently the issue of whether or not animals exist in the traditional Christian idea of Heaven is an open question. A quick Googling led me to hundreds of pages purporting to answer the question, "Do animals go to Heaven?" (or, more to the point for many of the people who care about asking such a question, "Will my pet go to Heaven?"). Many of these pages quote scripture as a means of providing evidence one way or the other, and most of them come to no definite conclusion.

In fact, many of the pages seem to be advice pages for clergy, to give them some guidance when parishioners ask the question. The answer seems to be, "Well, we don't really know." These pages all tend to conclude that, whatever the answer - which we'll find out when we get to Heaven ourselves (if you stop sinning, that is) - whether we end up seeing Fido again in the afterlife or not, we'll realise how marvellous God is and that obviously he must have made the right decision after all, and we'll be happy ever after no matter what.

Well, either way, the Infinite Featureless Plane of Death is merely an afterlife, not an example of "Heaven".

2021-09-04 Rerun commentary: If animals do go to Heaven... There are going to be a hell of a lot of ants and mosquitoes and other assorted bugs. Fruit flies have a complete life cycle of about 14 days. So not only are there billions of fruit flies alive right now, but in two weeks there'll be a different few billion fruit flies, while the current billions will all be off in Heaven. Add a few more billion more fruit flies to Heaven every fortnight, and that adds up to... well, more fruit flies than you can possibly imagine. Basically, when we get to Heaven, we'll all be wading through molasses-like swarms of fruit flies.