Difference between revisions of "2572: Alien Observers"

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:[Caption below the panel:]
:[Caption below the panel:]
:The hardest part of being an alien observing Earth is keeping track of what cameras everyone has.
:The hardest part of being an alien observing Earth is keeping track of what cameras everyone has.
* The aliens depicted here appear to be the same lifeforms as seen in the bottom row of [[2359: Evidence of Alien Life]].
{{comic discussion}}
{{comic discussion}}

Revision as of 06:10, 26 January 2022

Alien Observers
ALERT: Human 910-25J-1Q38 has created a Youtube channel. Increase erratic jerkiness of flying by 30% until safely out of range.
Title text: ALERT: Human 910-25J-1Q38 has created a Youtube channel. Increase erratic jerkiness of flying by 30% until safely out of range.


There is speculation by many people that there could be some form of extraterrestrial life observing us, hovering around in various flying vehicles, or perhaps using some form of giant telescope. These claims are often backed up by blurry pictures which claim to be of alien vehicles. In this comic, the joke is that the aliens are deliberately making sure that all sightings are made unverifiable. However, with most people now carrying a camera with them all the time, a sighting that would be unverifiable just by eyewitness testimony could now be captured by a smartphone camera.

This means that in order for the aliens to keep creating unverifiable sightings for humans, they must keep track of what camera capabilities each human has, leading to different distance restrictions for each human, as seen in the diagram. The effective range of each person's camera is depicted as a circular (or spherical) envelope around themselves, two on the cross-sectional diagram and at least one located off beyond the image edge.

There is also an apparently flat ground-hugging 'no fly zone' connecting two of these areas. This may be part of a general prohibition against landing (and/or causing verifiable ground effects, such as crop circles) or it could be there to show that the capability of a self-focussing camera is greatly enhanced when it also has ground-features to autofocus upon rather than a subject surrounded by nothing but sky.

The comic attempts to explain away the issue already discussed in prior comics, such as 718: The Flake Equation and 1235: Settled, in which the phenomenon of UFO sightings/reports is still left not resolved (either way) despite what modern technology should suggest is possible. It appears that the reason for this is that the sufficiently advanced aliens actually make more than enough observations of the human race to continuously determine how to stay just on the side of plausible deniability in any interactions that they still seem to wish to make.

The attitude of the aliens also mirrors that of a subset of humans, namely those who hold disdain for the consumerist mindset. These humans are frustrated by the tendency of their fellow humans to compulsively buy the latest and greatest versions of products at all times, often at great expense and without regard for the practical benefits of upgrading. Cellphones are one such product, as Apple and their competitors typically release new phone models annually (occasionally semi-annually), often introducing only minor or cosmetic changes with each new iteration.

In the title text, the aliens note that one particular human now has a YouTube account, meaning they are likely to record video instead of attempting to capture still images. This means that the alien craft used to create the sighting must behave as erratically as possible, in order to avoid being identified. This relates to the often wildly oscillating (as well as blurry) films and videos of 'UFOs' that have been taken by the impromptu human observer, beyond the limit of their ability to hold their fully-zoomed camera steady. Although here it is explained away as the flying saucers actually moving in an improbably jerky manner to prevent detailed recording of their craft. Further briefings of the sort depicted would doubtless accompany upgrades in optical/digital-stability features or the purchase of a camera tripod.

It appears the aliens have a classification and tracking system for all humans. It is unclear what the system for assigning these identifiers is, since we see two different formats (38XT11-B-C54 and 910-25J-1Q38). One possibility is that there are two different tracking systems represented, with at least two possibilities for the relation between them.

  1. Perhaps the two tracking systems are from two different alien agencies dedicated to human tracking, perhaps isomorphic to each other. One may come from a live observation while the other comes via an online alerting system, with no definitive link agreed between the two systems as not even the aliens can guarantee to resolve online anonymity, obfuscation or duplication of identity.
  2. On the other hand, perhaps the identifier system evolved over time and any given human only has an identifier from one system or the other. Assuming all numbers and letters are usable and each identifier could have only a letter or number in that place, the first identifier represents a space with at least 10*10*26*26*10*10*26*26*100=457 billion entries, while the space of the second is 10*10*10*10*10*26*10*26*10*10=68 billion. Perhaps, like IP addresses evolving from IPV4 to IPV6 because of the fear of exhaustion, the alien tracking systems similarly changed. This would imply the second (YouTube-posting) human is older than the first (cellphone carrying).
  3. A third possibility is simply regional variations, where different sectors of the Earth have developed their own identification systems, perhaps when population movements (or vacations) were far fewer and intercontinental travel was very rare indeed. Starting from an arbitrary point of time in history, one system may have applied to the Americas and the other to Eurasia (for example) with different challenges of recognising and surreptitiously tracking all individuals from cradle to grave within their communities (the shorter identifier of which forms some part of their full personal code). A revised globally-used system might be in development (or even now be in use, as per the above suggestion) but the diverse legacy systems could still apply to those born before the implementation period).

The identifier for the one buying the phone begins with "Human 38XT11". This seems likely to be a reference to THX 1138. This was the title of George Lucas' first film, which is also referenced in the original Star Wars film. The name contains the number in reverse as well as the letters if human could be written as H.

These aliens look like, but not exactly the same as, the one in What-If #20.


[Three aliens are looking at a screen. They each have six tentacles, of which four are used as legs, and the other two can be used as arms. They also have a small mouth and two eye stalks with a large eye at the end of each. The eyes has large eyelashes all the way around. One of the aliens is standing to the left of the screen, pointing to it by raising one of its tentacles. The other two aliens stand to the right of the screen looking at the picture. The screen's image depicts a cross-sectional diagram showing two humans in a rough landscape. There is a shaded area above each of the humans and the terrain. The shaded area's boundary consists of arcs of differing sizes centered upon each human. To the left of the first human there is also a small straight area over the ground. To the left of this towards the edge of the screen, what appears to be an arc with a very large radius that begins and rises high up compared to the other two arcs, around a point beyond the on-screen image's edge. The rightmost human's zone has a dashed region between concentric radii of different sizes indicating that this zone has been revised further out than before. Four flying-saucer like spaceships are shown in the air close to, but above, the shaded areas. One high near the left curve, one over the flat area, one near the intersection between the two small arcs and one over the middle of the right arc.]
Left Alien: Human 38XT11-B-C54 just bought a new phone with a 10x zoom, so we have to expand our restricted flight zone by 1,800 meters to keep our ship blurry.
Right Alien 2: Seriously? Didn't they just upgrade?
Left Alien: I know, I know...
[Caption below the panel:]
The hardest part of being an alien observing Earth is keeping track of what cameras everyone has.


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This is my first explanation, i know it is really bad but i wanted to give it a goElijahRock (talk) 20:39, 24 January 2022 (UTC)

Great you are helping. Often easier to continue and improve existing explanations rather than start as you did from scratch. Even if most of the original version end up getting changed. I make alot of edits but rarely begin the explanation. --Kynde (talk) 22:01, 24 January 2022 (UTC)
thanks! glad i could be helpful ElijahRock (talk) 16:02, 25 January 2022 (UTC)

I don't think it makes sense to track each human individually, I was under the impression that it was a "before and after" picture. - 22:14, 24 January 2022 (UTC)

I think they both track humans individually, and that this is a (representative) before-and-after picture. They probably have minions/computers/whatever continuously updating the actual flight-boundaries as people move around (and go into camera/phone/cameraphone stores and come out with something new) but this is a 'management briefing' that extraordinarily reports this otherwise mundane development as an individual matter, with a visual aid to make the report sink in. Just going to show how aliens can be both so alien and yet amazingly human in their bureaucratic minutiae. 01:21, 25 January 2022 (UTC)
What I was trying to say is that they don't actually keep track of which phone any random person has (or alter their flight path respectively), it's just a matter of "this is the furthest human technology can go". - 00:28, 26 January 2022 (UTC)
I think they do track everyone's individual capabilities. (They're that good at observation!) That's why they're so specific about what two individuals have done to upgrade their media capabilities. On the other hand, I think the on-screen image is just a representative diagram, rather than real-time/real-geography with real UFO positions - but it depicts the effective alterations of approach distances that this person's now 'toy' has enforced upon these Little Green Voyeurs. 00:46, 26 January 2022 (UTC)

Feels like this is a partial rebuttal of https://www.explainxkcd.com/wiki/index.php/1235:_Settled Boatster (talk) 23:08, 24 January 2022 (UTC)

Didn't see your comment, before, but added this link myself in my own way. 01:21, 25 January 2022 (UTC)
cheers Boatster (talk) 14:21, 26 January 2022 (UTC)

I think that Randall is also referring to the fact that all footage of "UFOs" show them flying erratically. This being due to the fact that this is the way refraction works. Sorry for the bad English, not sure how to explain it :) EDIT: It could also refer to the fact that a lot of people still believe in UFOs even though this is a well-known phenomenon that is known to be the cause of a lot of these sightings. As I said below though most of these kind of sightings are reported by pilots flying at high altitudes, so now I'm not sure...-- The Cat Lady (talk) 23:18, 24 January 2022 (UTC)

(Ditto above, didn't see this before starting editing, but...) I put it down to zoom-wobble in what I just inserted. Though didn't say that this is just normal (acceptable) hand-wobble augmented by the zoom needed to frame the distant whateveritis. Yes, rapidly changing refraction through moving air is probably also a thing (usually heat haze during the day, or the subtler stuff that astronomical telescopes have to deal with at night with lasers and adaptive optics and/or electronic post-processing) but I'm happy to leave it at zoom-wobble without going back and adding your suggestion. Do edit it if you feel like it, though, that being how this site works. 01:21, 25 January 2022 (UTC)
The zoom-wobble is a great explanation! I didn't think of that at all :P However, there's lots of footage that exists from non-zoomed, fixed cameras like security cameras and 8 mm film cameras on tripods, which sort of obviates that explanation. But also, I did a quick search for footage like that and it looks nothing like refraction phenoma (at least the examples I could find) so my explanation isn't quite correct either. I think those kind of sightings are mostly reported by pilots at high altitudes, as those are more likely conditions for this to happen. I'm still leaning more towards my explanation than yours for now though:) I'm going to leave this here for now and wait for more discussion before I change anything -- The Cat Lady (talk) 08:53, 25 January 2022 (UTC)

Zoom is a misnomer for the lens setups modern phones come with. As an example, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra does not have any zoom - it has three distinct cameras, each with their own prime lens. You can switch between the cameras, but this is not zooming. Paul-Simon (talk) 13:13, 25 January 2022 (UTC)

I have added that "Human 38XT11" is a reference to THX 1138... anyone who can spot something similar with Human 910-25J-1Q38 or B-C54? --Kynde (talk) 13:42, 25 January 2022 (UTC)

1Q38 can be seen as the 1st quarter of 2038, also known as Epochalypse. 11:32, 26 January 2022 (UTC)
1Q84 is the title of a novel by Haruki Murakami. The meaning of the title is the year 1984, since 9 in Japanese is kyū. So perhaps 1Q38 is code for 1938? Entropy (talk) 14:05, 25 January 2022 (UTC)
Can't they just be random numbers that Randall decided to use? Why does everything need to be a reference to something? 18:43, 25 January 2022 (UTC)
people like to see patterns even if there are noneNew editor (talk) 21:27, 25 January 2022 (UTC)
If Randall had chosen them randomly, they'd both have ended up as "4444-4444-4444-4444"... ;) 20:44, 25 January 2022 (UTC)
I agree that some of the numbers may have been chosen randomly. But with Randall, being fan of Starwars, and often putting in funny references, I cannot imagine he would manage to put in the letters from THX1138 numbers in the first part of the first humans code, by a random coincidence, it is just too unlikely. But that doesn't mean the other numbers need to reference anything. --Kynde (talk) 17:41, 27 January 2022 (UTC)

I don't get why starting a YouTube-channel should have any impact on flying patterns because it's the filming and not the publishing that is the problem. The videos shown on that particular channel can be years old so the erratic flight behavior should take place as soon as a human has the capability to shoot a video rather than publish it. Kimmerin (talk) 08:25, 26 January 2022 (UTC)

Maybe the aliens is not that bright, just good at technology, I still don't get the lines spoken by the other alien and the reply to that. It makes no sense to me. As with the title text. Agree that it makes no difference to have a channel. --Kynde (talk) 17:42, 27 January 2022 (UTC)

These aliens need to do a better job of tracking human technology. One camera, the Nikon P900 has an optical zoom ratio of 83x and a digital zoom of 166x. They should have made flight compensations immediately upon its product announcement back in 2015. Or at least upon its consumer rollout in 2017, not after the fact. These Are Not The Comments You Are Looking For (talk) 04:29, 30 January 2022 (UTC)