1821: Incinerator

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Revision as of 21:05, 7 April 2017 by (talk) (Transcript)
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My trash can broke recently and I had to get rid of it. When I picked it up, I suffered a brief but harrowing existential crisis.
Title text: My trash can broke recently and I had to get rid of it. When I picked it up, I suffered a brief but harrowing existential crisis.


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Cueball and Ponytail have just finished installing an incinerator for some unspecified purpose at some establishment. Ponytail brings up the problem of having to get rid of the old incinerator, and Cueball begins to suggest using the new incinerator to incinerate the old one before he is shut down by Ponytail off-panel. This makes him noticeably disappointed.

There are several reasons why incinerating the old incinerator might not be an option. Regulations or safety concerns could easily shut that plan down. The reason that the title text seems to suggest however is that there is something wrong with forcing anything to destroy something of its own kind, at least for Randall. Since machines that have no human emotion, this would not cause any trauma for the machine, but the humans in charge might feel as if something is wrong, and Randall mentions having an existential crisis in the title text. This is because humans tend to project human qualities onto the machines they are working with (anthropomorphization), thus possibly framing the situation in the context of something like cannibalism or homicide.

That doesn't even matter though, because disposing of the incinerator in this way would be physically impossible. Incinerators are effective at disposing of organic waste: paper, wood etc. But not good for disposing of an incinerator that is mostly non-flammable. Parts of the old incinerator could be recycled, the remainder would have to go to landfill.

Cueball is probably disappointed because the idea of using an incinerator to destroy an incinerator is novel, and not getting to see something as cool as that happen is a let down if you are in a position where you might expect to get to see that happen. Cueball may also be projecting human qualities onto the incinerators, imagining the scenario with the same excitement as one might have watching a criminal be executed. After all, incinerators are easy to see as a type of executioner when personified, since their whole purpose is to destroy what they are given.


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[Cueball and Ponytail stand next to an incinerator, with a combustion chamber and flue that rises up to the top of the frame.]
Ponytail: Great, the new incinerator is installed. Now we just need to dispose of the old one.
[Ponytail walks out of the frame.]
[Cueball lowers his head.]
[Cueball raises his hand and begins to ask a question].
Cueball: Hey, could—
Ponytail (off-panel): No.
Cueball: Aww, maaan.

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The crisis could come from a more abstract feeling thinking of the incinerating/trash devices as Ouroboros, serpents biting their own tail or nilpotent matrices. Nothing would be left. Sebastian -- 06:01, 8 April 2017 (UTC)

There also might be a more practical explanation of the crisis; in my experience it is extremely difficult to convey to trash collectors that a garbage can itself is part of the trash. Merely placing it inside another, larger trash receptacle is often not enough to convince them to collect it. 07:15, 8 April 2017 (UTC)

I actually had the opposite problem recently, where we obtained a medium sized plastic tote with a recyclables logo on the side, and they were kind enough to take all the recyclable materials, apparently including the tote. So be careful what you wish for. 17:14, 8 April 2017 (UTC)
Sadly, that might not have been the trash collectors. That is, I'm sure they took the recyclables, but it's possible one of your neighbors said, "Hey, free tote," especially since if it was new, clean, and did not have any identifying marks, such as your address, on it. 23:19, 8 April 2017 (UTC)

I find that the people who post here have the weirdest, most unusual problems. 07:46, 9 April 2017 (UTC)
In my own practical experience, the only solution to throw away a personal trashcan (that is, a can which is not supplied by the waste management services), is to cut/dismantle the old can and dispose of it in the new can. Trashcans supplied by waste management services have always been a simple call to the customer service office and a brand-new can would be awaiting after the next garbage collection day. 03:38, 3 June 2017 (UTC)

Disposing of a trash can by putting it in its replacement is simply insustainable: After a few generations, you end up with a container that won't fit trough your door! -- 13:09, 9 April 2017 (UTC)

Maybe the crisis was recursive -- using the broken container to dispose of itself.CoderLass (talk) 17:34, 13 April 2017 (UTC)

That's what I thought as well! 17:39, 17 April 2017 (UTC)