This is the second comic in a series, following the previous comic 2477: Alien Visitors.
The aliens now return to show us even more "advanced" inventions. As with the previous strip, the only innovations they offer are not only things that humans know how to build, but things we figured out some time ago, and are now obsolete. As with the pyramids and Stonehenge, these inventions might have been impressive in their time, but now offer nothing to humanity.
Biplanes are planes with two sets of wings, which provide more of the necessary lift at slow speed than a contemporaneous monoplane, but develop increased drag and aerodynamic and air-frame issues as higher air-speeds became possible/necessary. Biplanes have been obsolete for most purposes since the 1930s, though they remain in use for agriculture and aerial sports.
A blimp is a lighter than air aircraft with no internal structure. These aircraft were traditionally filled with hydrogen gas to provide the needed buoyancy, due to the lower density of hydrogen and a US monopoly on helium limiting availability for the German blimp manufacturer. Hydrogen is highly flammable and thus presents a safety issue. The famous Hindenburg disaster is widely seen as a reason hydrogen airships are unlikely to be widely accepted. However, it is still disputed whether the hydrogen or the coating of the airframe caused the fire. Blimps are still used today, but only rarely, in niche applications, such as for advertising or for aerial photography/videography. Modern airships generally use helium as a lifting gas, which is more expensive, but non-flammable.
Tetraethyllead ((CH3 CH2)4Pb) is a chemical added to gasoline (mostly from the 1920s to the 1990s — although some countries still use it to this day) to prevent engine knocking. Lead is toxic and bio-accumulative, and there's substantial evidence that its use in gasoline caused widespread lead exposure, impacting public health on a huge scale. The aliens seem surprised to learn of these toxic effects, and their concern implies that they may be using leaded gasoline themselves, but it's unclear whether they might think that their biology may by vulnerable to lead as well or whether they never considered that biologies alien to theirs would be.
The final invention appears to be a reference to Juicero, a defunct and short-lived brand of juicer, which has become iconic of the absurdity of modern technology investment. The company produced a high-tech, internet-connected juicer which sold for $700, and only worked on the company's proprietary branded single-serving bags of pulped fruit, which were available by subscription for $5-$7 per serving. The company raised over $100 million in startup capital, but quickly went out of business because most consumers considered the expensive product to be nearly useless, coupled with a rather damning video by Bloomberg demonstrating said packets could easily be squeezed by hand. The title text singles this invention out, calling it one of the "mistakes of the past".
After the latest showing of unimpressive "inventions", the humans start questioning how "advanced" the aliens really are. It's traditionally assumed that a species capable of interstellar travel would have a host of other advanced technologies, which is inconsistent with the unimpressive and not only obsolete, but also fatally-flawed inventions they're offering to humanity. The humans on the ground ask whether they actually built their own flying saucer. They also consider the wiseness of standing directly under the saucer, implying that, if the aliens did build it, it's likely to be unreliable, and may be at risk of crashing (though perhaps a bit ironically, the humans say this in response to the juicer, and while the actual device it is spoofing was a failure in many ways, one thing it was not was shoddily built (aside from the fact that you could squeeze more juice by hand than by using the machine...) - one critique of the Juicero was that it was needlessly over-engineered).
- [A flying saucer is flying high above Ponytail who is walking towards White Hat, Cueball and Megan. Those three are looking up at the spacecraft. The humans are drawn very small standing on the ground beneath it. The aliens inside speak to them from inside their saucer, indicated with zigzag lines between it and the text.]
- Aliens: Greetings, humans. We have returned.
- Aliens: Since you already have pyramids, we've brought you more advanced wonders.
- [Pan up to only showing the flying saucer which has two beams below it, the left showing an outline of a biplane and the right is showing an outline of a blimp. The humans reply off-panel. Given their positions before, the first is probably Ponytail, but it cannot be determined.]
- Aliens: These machines will let you conquer the sky!
- Voice 1 (off-panel): A biplane?
- Voice 1 (off-panel): Aren't monoplanes more efficient?
- Voice 2 (off-panel): Does that blimp use hydrogen?
- [Zoom in on the four humans looking up, the Aliens reply from above the panel. There is a chemical formula in an outline from the alien flying saucer, shown in a similar manner to the other items.]
- Chemical formula: (CH3 CH2)4 Pb
- Aliens (off-panel): Add this elixir of lead to your gasoline and your engines will run smooth.
- White Hat: Lead? Isn't that stuff toxic?
- Aliens: Is it?
- Aliens: Oh no.
- [Zoom back out, as in first panel but the flying saucer and the humans are shown in silhouette. A beam from the saucer is showing an outline of a juice machine.]
- Aliens: Okay, uh.
- Aliens: This device's electric press can squeeze fresh fruit juice from bags of pulp!
- Ponytail: ...Just curious, did you build that saucer?
- Cueball: Maybe we shouldn't stand right under it.
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Sorry for intruding, I am just delighted that I am early 18.104.22.168 14:02, 18 June 2021 (UTC)
"Maybe we shouldn't stand right under it." This line might (inadvertently?) reference the common alien-movie fail in which massive spacecraft hover at low altitude over human populations without obliterating them and their infrastructure. It might also be bathroom humor. 22.214.171.124 15:56, 18 June 2021 (UTC)
- I'm with the original explanation. The aliens just don't seem very advanced, so they're worried that the spaceships are poorly constructed and pieces might fall off, or the entire ship might just drop. Barmar (talk) 16:19, 18 June 2021 (UTC)
- You are probably correct with respect to Randall's intentions. The situation, though, brings to my mind Turtledove's Worldwar series, in which "The Race" had very advanced technology (hence little risk of spaceships crashing on their own) but had, at least initially, a poor opinion about human technologies and their advancement. 126.96.36.199 18:31, 18 June 2021 (UTC)
- Thanks for the reference, 188.8.131.52! I’m enjoying listening to the series for free through my public library account using Hoopla. Apparently the original e-books had atrocious copy editing so I get to miss out on that visual horror. :-). Dhugot (talk) 18:02, 19 June 2021 (UTC)
- Also reminds me of that StarTrek (NextGen) episode where a very low intelligence species has advanced space travel that it obtains by stealing it from other species. (Sorry - I forget the episode title). SteveBaker (talk) 16:06, 21 June 2021 (UTC)
- That was Season 2 episode "Samaritan Snare". 184.108.40.206 17:28, 21 June 2021 (UTC)
To the individual who made a callback to Capri Sun--bless you. 220.127.116.11 19:11, 18 June 2021 (UTC)
- Need a category for this recurring comic: Category:Alien Visitors. 18.104.22.168 00:33, 19 June 2021 (UTC)
Doesn’t the United States still add lead to gasoline used for piston airplane engines, and also high octane race car fuel?22.214.171.124 03:28, 19 June 2021 (UTC)
- Very limited niche use remains, phased out of major applications. 126.96.36.199 08:52, 19 June 2021 (UTC)
- Does 167,000 aircraft in the USA (plus more around the world) count as “limited niche use”? Assuming a super conservative estimate of an average of only 100 hours/year/airframe and an equally conservative burn rate of 10 gal/hr, that’s 167 million gallons of leaded gasoline burned per year. See https://www.faa.gov/news/fact_sheets/news_story.cfm?newsId=14754 for more info on the FAA’s continuing refusal to remove lead from avgas.188.8.131.52 04:46, 20 June 2021 (UTC)
- Considering the 276 million cars in the USA and their yearly consumption of 123.5 billion gallons of fuel, that is pretty much limited niche use, yes. 184.108.40.206 14:40, 21 June 2021 (UTC)
- Classic example of a logical fallacy. To paraphrase your assertion: “Because the market for 100LL fuel for piston aircraft is 0.1% the size as the unleaded gasoline market for automobiles, 100LL fuel for piston aircraft is a niche market” but you are comparing apples to bacon by comparing automotive unleaded gasoline to 100LL aviation fuel. Status as “niche” or “not niche” is based on sales of leaded fuel; cars run on unleaded gasoline, diesel, or electricity, and are thus irrelevant to the discussion. I mean, why not mention how much jet-A is burned by turbine aircraft? Answer: because it’s irrelevant to the discussion. Cars burning unleaded fuel is irrelevant to the discussion of leaded gasoline. In terms of absolute quantities, piston aircraft burn far more 100LL than anything else, and lead from those aircraft remains a significant source of lead pollution.220.127.116.11 03:59, 22 June 2021 (UTC)
- Although lead was originally added to gas in order to improve efficiency, it was retained in order to reduce refining expense. After refining crude oil, you get gasoline at a variety of octanes. The different octanes are blended to produce what you pay for (e.g. 87 for regular, 93 for premium). Lead is an octane-boosting additive, allowing manufacturers to ship sub-standard gas (that is a little below the rated octane), adding lead to bring it up to standard. Without lead, you need to blend in a higher proportion of higher-octane gas in order to get the required octane rating. Which is why, back when lead was being phased out, unleaded gas cost more than leaded. The effect of lead reducing engine knock is simply a result of the gas having a higher octane rating. High octane gas without lead (e.g. premium) has the same effect.
- Another interesting side point is that computer-controlled refineries have effectively reduced the quality of gas you get at the pump. There are serious legal penalties for selling gas with an octane rating below what is labeled, but no penalties for being higher. Back when refineries were not computer controlled, they were not precise enough to produce the exact blend required, so they would always err a little higher (e.g. selling 88 octane labeled as 87). But with modern systems, they can sell exactly what's labeled, so consumers don't get any free bonus octane anymore. Shamino (talk) 16:22, 19 June 2021 (UTC)
- Leaded gasoline doesn't just provide anti-knock capability, in older cars, the lead gradually accumulates around the valve seats and serves to soften the impact of the valve as it snaps shut. Modern cars have both anti-knock sensors and hardened valve seats - so you don't need it anymore. My 1960 Mini needs leaded gas because of the valve-seat issue - and as a result I have to use a lead additive for about one in five tankfuls of gas. Fortunately, that car is mostly a "garage queen" and is only driven to local car shows and such. I atone for this by driving a Tesla as my main vehicle! SteveBaker (talk) 16:06, 21 June 2021 (UTC)
- Why can't you use tetraethylbismuth whose metal is soft and low melting like lead but much less toxic? Oxygen (talk) 18:52, 21 June 2021 (UTC)
An honorary mention might be made to Thomas Midgley Jr., who helped to make both TEL and CFCs widely used. (Though didn't get the chance to widely promote his bed-lift before it also proved unsafe.) 18.104.22.168 08:52, 19 June 2021 (UTC)
I don't think the Hindenburg exploded. It just burned.
One would question how benevolent these aliens are. They only offer inferior technology (pyramids, biplanes) which they could have trivially seen not to be useful, or they offer harmful technology like lead-based gasoline and inefficient fruit-presses. On the other hand they do not offer the one tech we don't have, e.g. still-standing flying saucers. Thus one may question their real motives... <Insert reference to V>. Ralfoide (talk) 17:53, 20 June 2021 (UTC)
- Or maybe they're trying to ensure we have a well rounded tech growth rather than beelining to spaceflight. --22.214.171.124 21:35, 20 June 2021 (UTC)
- For sure the Hindenburg didn't explode - and there is evidence that much of the problem wasn't the loss of the hydrogen anyway since hydrogen flames ascend UPWARDS away from the passenger gondola - and hydrogen burns at a relatively low temperature. A bigger problem was that the skin of the airship was sprayed with iron oxide on the inside and aluminium on the outside - which, when burned together, was essentially "thermite". That stuff is hard to set on fire, but once it gets started it's horrifically energetic - it's what the Germans were using as incendiary bombs...so they REALLY should have known better! Given the rapidly increasing cost (and scarcity) of helium - airships may soon have to go back to using hydrogen. But it could easily be made safe with modern technology to monitor (and purge) oxygen from inside the hydrogen cells, adequate lightning protection...and an "anything-except-freaking-thermite!!" skin. SteveBaker (talk) 16:19, 21 June 2021 (UTC)
- Regarding the Hindenburg's rapid burning, the MythBusters did some tests that attempted to figure out what actually happened. Their tests indicated that the composition of the skin was indeed a factor (as their test without the hydrogen accelerated partway through the burn, indicating that doping was indeed having a thermite reaction), but that hydrogen was still the major factor in the speed of the burn (their model burned twice as fast with the hydrogen added than without). Conclusion: using a different paint composition may help but I'm not so certain that hydrogen can really be considered "safe". MarsJenkar (talk) 13:33, 28 July 2021 (UTC)
- See also Hindenburg MiniMyth video. They should have done a third test with hydrogen and some other doping on the skin, in order to show what component of the burn time was due to the thermite reaction. With the two tests they did, they only showed that hydrogen was a significant factor. Shamino (talk) 13:19, 29 July 2021 (UTC)
I feel like the references to the Secretary series are in error. Ron Paul *does* have a blimp in those comics, so it's tangentially related, but the secretary series is very much not the alien visitors series.126.96.36.199 12:34, 21 June 2021 (UTC)
As for biplanes - because they have ample wing area, they typically have shorter wing-spans than monoplanes. This reduces the moment of angular inertia and that allows them to turn more rapidly...and that is why they are used in aerobatics and crop spraying. The infamous "Red Baron" of WWI flew a Fokker triplane which enhanced the ability to maneuver even more - although at the expense of even more drag. However, high drag also means you can slow down much more rapidly - which allowed more interesting tactical possibilities. Biplanes were VERY useful in the era in which they were flown. They didn't vanish because they were a terrible technology - but because the nature of arial warfare changed. Modern fighter aircraft try to get the best of both worlds by having wings with a greater chord length - providing more lift area without messing up roll/yaw angular inertia. However, this does worsen longitudinal angular inertia - which is relatively unimportant in a modern "dogfight" where the only real requirement is to be able to turn tightly enough for a missile firing solution. SteveBaker (talk) 16:06, 21 June 2021 (UTC)
How do people feel about a discussion of the limitations of Freudenthal's (1960) LINCOS: Lingua Cosmica, as featured in the Jodie Foster film Contact? In particular, what limitations arise when higher-level communications must be based on screenplays? For example, would a society continually producing movies depicting themselves as violent agressive galactic conquers be eligible for first contact? 188.8.131.52 18:46, 24 June 2021 (UTC)
Wait, the alien is using holography. Lamda05 (talk) 06:19, 25 June 2021 (UTC)
It is unclear whether they don't realize that lead is toxic to themselves, or whether they have been giving it to other species without thinking of the possibility that it could be toxic to other exobiologies. Please stop editing this out. You aren't "making things clearer" when you edit out this distinction. Thank you. 184.108.40.206 13:05, 16 July 2021 (UTC)