Sunday, 25 September 2016

Meeting a hero (@xkcd)

The comic xkcd has been a favourite of mine for many many years, and has a cult following especially amongst geeks. It is drawn by Randall Munroe, who used to make robots for NASA, and is apparently the second most famous physicist to move in to a cartoonist career who was born on October 17th.

As an ISP we immediately adopted that someone knowing the word "Shibboleet" had some clue, and that passwords should consider entropy as well as ease by which they can be remembered.

I had the pleasure of a talk from him yesterday at the New Scientist event at Excel London. Yes, he did indeed kill the laptop doing the presentation with a bottle of water during the talk - well done. I took my 8 year old grandson, Bobby, and I am so kicking myself that I failed to say "We call him Little Bobby Tables" when Randall signed his book "To Bobby". That is how much I was dumbstruck by meeting a hero.

For a change, when meeting a hero, he was pleasant, and actually took time to talk to everyone that was there for the book signing. He even spoke to Bobby, and me, and he says he too has constant arguments on passwords and entropy even now. And yes, as he says of those with which he has such arguments: "they are all wrong".

I also learned a lot about the practical aspects of making a ball-pen play area in your apartment. You would not believe how many subtle issues there are - a good presentation.


  1. I saw your Tweet on Friday, and was fortunate to be able to get two of the last tickets to hear him in Oxford today. We thoroughly enjoyed it — including, fortunately, my wife, who had never heard of him before.

    An absolutely packed room too — not a single seat left.

  2. We went to see him in Oxford as well, having seen the banner on (only just in time).

    I'm always a bit wary of meeting heroes in case they turn out to be jerks, but Randall couldn't have been nicer, treating the people whose books he was signing as though they were the first people he'd met, even though by that point he'd been signing solidly for over 1.5 hours.

    His observations on pedantry, the underlying reasons for it (basically showing off) and its likely negative consequences (hurting people's feelings, stopping them saying anything further and/or making them vengefully look out for something to trip you up with) gave me considerable pause for thought as well.

    A very interesting, thought-provoking and, of course, funny talk.

    @Neil - why hadn't you introduced your wife to Randall's work before now?!

    1. To be fair, my wife actually found the talk interesting too... She had not really taken any notice of xkcd before.

    2. > why hadn't you introduced your wife to Randall's work before now?!

      I don't know — most probably because I just didn't think it would be up her street at all. I've just asked whether, now she's met Randall, she'll read xkcd, and she seemed kind of interested in a "hmm, yes, perhaps" sort of probably-not-going-to-happen way...