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Yeah, so I wrote this during the time I had a subscription to Scientific American and was absorbing a lot of weird tech ideas. More than anything, though, I wish I knew what Titus and Artie were discussing prior to this strip. Those two could have some strange conversations.

Yes, the mad technological advancement is measured in plausibility. Everything's possible.

And we finally get to the major turning point in Narbonic. Took long enough.

This strip was great because I only had to draw two panels! Good work, me! I wish I could be this efficient all the time.

A lot of people were confused by this strip when it first ran, but all will become clear in time. I know what I'm doing.

This strip is perfect except for the first panel, where I couldn't get Helen to come out right now matter how many times I redrew her. It bugs me every time I see it, because otherwise it's the greatest strip ever. I've said this before, but I like strips with physical comedy, and I like strips where the characters have different but equally ridiculous points of view, and the weird logic at work here is great. If only Helen in the first panel had a neck.

Helen really is playing with fire, taking Dave to this event. But she was curious to see how people were reacting to the Tinasky study. And, well, sometimes Helen makes really unwise decisions. Most of the time, in fact.

In retrospect, what makes this week is Helen's kid-caught-with-a-hand-in-the-cookie-jar expression. It's just so inadequate for the scope of what she's actually done.

45 comments:
JP Chabot (speedball) says:

Wait--it folds like paper? It's a PDA-napkin?

Kay Gilbert (kaygilbert) says:

Think hard, Titus.  It'll come to you.

Grant McCormick (grantcmccormick) says:

Paper Doily Assistant?

Adam Underfoot (unnatural20) says: @JP:
When Dave handed it to Titus, it had just been was rolled up in his pocket. When Titus took it, it wibbled and wobbled back and forth. It's about as rigid as an unstarched cloth napkin.
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

One of these days, I ought to use the spambot posts to make a filk of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire".  Anyway, back to today's comic ...

(TUNE: "It's All Too Much", The Beatles, 1967)

Please tell Dave to thank his boss,
The PDA is great!
But you say it's not her work?
Now just a minute, wait!

It's just too much ... for Dave to make,
He must have needed some assistance ...
It's quantum-based, for goodness sake,
Computes from matter's mere existence!

Dave made something so bizarre,
He used a paperclip!
Now it runs the hotel bar,
Adds up my bill, plus tip!

It's just too much ... for Dave to make!
His mind is much more than I feared!
The talking mice ... well, I can take,
But this thing here is freakin' weird!

Leon Arnott (l) says: Monday:

So, wait... by "it's running this bar" does it mean it's seamlessly utilising the bar's matter for computational purposes? That it converts the surface on which it is placed into temporary hardware, regardless of the surface's actual molecular composition? Gee.
Rob (rrreed) says: Shaenon, Dave's ultimate PDA wouldn't happen to have been suggested/inspired by Raymond Kurzweil, would it? The timing's about right.
Zan Lynx (zlynx) says:

"running this bar" - So the PDA doesn't have any computing power itself. It turns whatever matter its resting on into a computer. "taps the computational power of matter"

It turns anything into computronium.

Adam Underfoot (unnatural20) says:

Particularly bad spam today...
Adam Underfoot (unnatural20) says: For those of you reading Narbonic for the first time, I'm going to spoil the ending right here: The rest of the comic is about a hyper-intelligent gerbil working in a hotel bar, trying to pay for drinks bigger than he is.
Kay Gilbert (kaygilbert) says:

Aaaaaand the other shoe drops.  This strip would seem to give the lie to Sweetheart's statement, in yesterday's Skin Horse, that Artie has a "beyond-genius I.Q."  He certainly didn't out-think Titus.

Carl Fishman (carlfishman) says:

@Kay; I think it comes down to one of the basic rules of comedy; playing against type.  So Tip is funny because he seems to be a "girly man" but is, in fact, more "manly" than anyone else around.  Similarly, Artie is funny because he's said to be hyper-intelligent, but he keeps doing dumb (or anyway impractical) things.  (If I mention his politics, I'm going to offend someone here!)

Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

(TUNE: "Celebration", Kool & The Gang)

Re-ve-la-tion, he just got!
Re-ve-la-tion twists the plot!

There's a pair of henchmen having drinks,
And Artie's asking just what Titus thinks ...
With Titus staring ... at his PDA ...
This type of tech is unlikely today!

He just had ...
(Re-ve-la-tion!)
The awful truth just hit like a flood!
(Re-ve-la-tion!)
He bugs his eyes out and says "Holy crud"!

What did he go and run away for?
I'm left with drinks ... I can't pay for!
Left my wal-let in my other fur!
Yes, sir!

David Harmon (mental_mouse) says:

Kay: intelligence is one thing; perspective is another, let alone background knowledge!

Shaenon Garrity (shaenongarrity) says:

Adam: That would be a better comic.

The Artie in Skin Horse is a little older than the Artie in Narbonic. He's not very good with people at this point. That said, Sweetheart's point of view is not necessarily trustworthy.
Diane Castle (deecee) says:

@Kay: I've known plenty of hyper-intelligent *people* who simply didn't apply their intelligence to things around them.  I've known a couple hyper-intelligent mathematicians who never applied their intellect to anything in this dimension - including their clothes.  Artie's just focusing on what he sees as important, and missing some closer issues.

Rob (rrreed) says:

Yes, the mad technological advancement is measured in plausibility. Everything's possible.

Hmmm... We'll have to go back and work that into the G.E.M. scale, now.

And of course everything's possible. The impossible just takes longer (and usually has cost overruns).
Sam Ashley (evilmidnightlurker) says:

See?  It just takes a moment or two for the genius to muscle its way past the assumptions and naivete. :)

Kay Gilbert (kaygilbert) says:

tune: "Lump," The Presidents of the USA

Now I'm alone in a grotty bar
I can't pay the tab for the guy with the scar
Titus saw the singularity
He knew what it meant: Helen is really Tinasky

I'm dense, so dense, so dense
I'm hassium
I'm dense, so dense, so dense
So smart, I'm dumb

Dave is a genius, subtype: mad
His quantum PDA thing is so totally rad
Of course Helen messed with his brain!
Am I watching, unaware, while he goes insane?

I'm dense, so dense, so dense
I'm hassium
I'm dense, so dense, so dense
So smart, I'm dumb

I must be outta my head
I am so
Dense that I'm thick as brown bread
I am so
Dense that I am a black hole
I am so
Blind that I should be a mole

Leon Arnott (l) says:
""Dr. Milo Tinasky" is an anagram for "I am not dry silk."

Once you realize that, the rest is quite obvious.
"
--Seth Blumberg, 6 January 2005
Wayne (wayne) says:

The proper line, to quote Sledge Hammer, is "Trust me, I know what I'm doing", frequently followed by a large explosion.

Grant McCormick (grantcmccormick) says:

In Artie's defense, he's been blinded by Dave's very obviousness — he's grown up with Dave, known Dave for as long as either's been around (just like we the audience had, at this point in Narbonic 1.0).

He (and we) didn't see Dave as a potential mad genius¹.

Up to this point, we saw him as Dave.

¹ In spite of certain since-pointed-out forshawdowing.

Diane Castle (deecee) says:

@Shaenon: I don't think you need to worry about any readers being confused this time.  After all, the key point has been spoilered (by you or by a reader) on roughly a hundred days so far. 

In fact, I'm surprised Leon doesn't have a count of all such days.  It would be tougher than counts based on the strip alone, but he's talented...

Shaenon Garrity (shaenongarrity) says:

I think part of Artie's problem is that his points of reference for how humans normally behave are Helen, Dave, and Mell.
The Auld Grump (theauldgrump) says:

Aand Titus hits the ground running! (How'd ya think he's stayed alive this long?)

The Auld Grump

Mary Potts (queenofcapes) says:

So Artie, Tip and Sweetheart all just had shocking revelations at the same time. Is this pacing of the two comics deliberate??

Kay Gilbert (kaygilbert) says:

Not to mention the Yenny-size feet, but it's still a great strip.  I want the videos that Artie used to learned this, but I swear I would only use the power for good.

Thomas Levy (ergonomytch) says:

Artie has gotten a lot better at this move in recent years. http://www.webcomicsnation.com/shaenongarrity/skinhorse/series.php?view=archive&chapter=49131&name=skinhorse#strip6

Leon Arnott (l) says: Thursday:

This is indeed a great strip. Though I'm mulling over whether "sensitivity-training videos" adds or subtracts from the punch-line.
So It Begins (soitbegins) says: Heh.
Shane Wegner (shanewegner) says:

Helen is such a good sport about being thrown against the wall by her diminuitive minion. "JEEZ ARTIE what's on your mind?!"

Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

@ergonomytch:  Shows you how paranoid I'm getting ... I saw a hyperlink and thought, "Oh, great, another spammer ... wait, no, that's a real comment and link."

By way of apology, I'll make a reference to your reference ...

(TUNE: "The Wall", Pink Floyd)

Artie has important question ...
Helen shrugs him off, of course ...
Artie wants to show aggression ...
Needs assistance using force ...
 ... ... ...
Hey ... Artie
Did it in "Skin Horse"!
He's too small, so Helen
Throws herself to the wall!

Johnn Reynolds (sleepyjohn) says:

Mad Scientists wear Crocs?

Adam Underfoot (unnatural20) says: Do you see a whole bunch of ugly holes in those shoes Helen is wearing, Johnn?

No?
Darn tootin' you don't.
Kay Gilbert (kaygilbert) says:

tune: "Glow worm," The Mills Brothers (1952)

Gloat, Helen Narbon, do it, do it
You're far to askew to eschew it
Let Artie be the sensible one
We count on you for foolhardy fun

Dave may discover you're Tinasky
Will he go crazy then? Don't ask me!
You float my boat in your lab coat
So gloat, Helen Narbon, gloat

Thomas Levy (ergonomytch) says:

A mad science symposium would pretty much be the worst place in the world for genius to go mad. The sheer abundance of badly guarded and incredibly powerful technology would give the mad genius unlimited possibilities for what he could whip up in his frenzy.

It might make sense to enforce a strict rule that only those people who have demonstrably had their breakdown event already would be allowed in. No sane service staff, no sane henchmen. But then, mad science is pretty much defined by the lack of good safety protocols. so I dont see this being likely.

David Harmon (mental_mouse) says: Thomas Levy: Ahh, but what a fight! Remember, this is a convention where zombie dinosaurs battle for mates, where acid's liable to take out the first few rows of audience, where the mint on your pillow might... oh wait, did we do that bit yet?
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

(TUNE: "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds", The Beatles)

Picture a sad and potentially mad man,
His sanity cracking, his mind letting go!
At the symposium, the death and explosions
Would give me a warm fuzzy glow!

Though it's unwise,
He's in front of their eyes,
And I'm laughing 'cause none of them know ...
Wanna know why?
Well, I just want to pri-
Vately gloat!

Helen's really Milo Tinasky!
Helen's really Milo Tinasky!
Helen's really Milo Tinasky!
Oh ... s**t!

P. Ipsum (vitupera) says:

I love all of Helen's poses in this, but I think what I love best is that in the third panel, she's still positioned to be speaking to the theoretical (future) Artie who can slam her dramatically against the wall.

Johnn Reynolds (sleepyjohn) says:

Of course.  I mean, what's the whole point in being a mad scientist if you don't get to do insane things and gloat? 

John Campbell (jcampbel) says:

Helen's poses are all great, but I think my favorite is the shifty-eyed being-dressed-down-by-a-gerbil expression in panel 2. That the gerbil is on her head rather than slamming her dramatically against a wall just makes it funnier.

Artie doesn't seem to have fully apprehended a key part of the epithet "mad scientist".

Shaenon Garrity (shaenongarrity) says:

Pauline: Yes, in retrospect, the best part of this strip is that Helen is still helpfully slamming herself against the wall.
Leon Arnott (l) says: Saturday:

What also shouldn't be underestimated is the "For starters", suggesting not only that Helen is only just thinking this scenario through, but also that something slightly more ominous awaits.
Ed Gedeon (eddurd) says:

(TUNE: "Peace Of Mind", Boston)

Well, Artie said to throw myself against the wall, and then asked me
What I'm tryin' to do to Dave!
He's the subject of my study ('cause I'm Milo Tinasky) ...
Want to see how he'll behave!
(Heh heh heh ...)

Doing a study on mad cognition,
Publishing papers on what I find!
Dave is under my supervision,
All I'm trying to do is break his mind!

Tiff Hudson (tiff_hudson) says:

I adore Artie's last line.

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The education bestowed on Shaenon K. Garrity by her parents had been expensive, athletic and prolonged. ... full profile