Archive for the ‘Blog’ Category.

Check out: GeoGuessr, the Google Maps game

My newest obsession is GeoGuessr, a game that places you at a random point in the world (via Google Maps Street View) and makes you guess where you are.

let's do!!

You can navigate around as much as you like, looking for identifying clues (such as signs or landmarks) before making your guess. You can play specific maps (restricted to a country or even a city), or let it plop you down anywhere that Google has mapped. You can also play specific challenges created by other people.

This is basically the perfect game for me. I don’t really want to fight bosses or solve reflex-based challenges; I just want to wander around and explore and discover things. And the fact that you’re exploring the real, actual world is so much fun, for someone like me who’s into geography: you start looking at billboards and bus signs and pieces of trash on the side of the road as if they are clues placed for you in a video game, freighting it all with a larger meaning that’s barely outside your grasp, believing that you can unravel the puzzle with the clues you were meant to find.


There are a lot of roads in the world, so when set to random, I’ve found that GeoGuessr often lands me on some lonesome highway in the middle of nowhere. To me, that first moment feels just as quest-like as the start of any video game (except the NPCs are very unhelpful).


These are challenging rounds, to be sure. Yesterday I clicked through a windy, backwoods Australian road for ten or fifteen minutes before finding any sort of signage that I could read. It’s not fun, for most definitions of fun, but it was absolutely interesting.


You can navigate around in Street View, and you can also explore the world map in as much detail as you like. (But the game never shows you where you are, of course, and you can’t search on the map.)

Much of the time, I end up poring over the map in eye-watering close-up, scanning unknown regions for an Argentine or Turkish town name that matches one I’ve found in Street View.

It’s a game that you can always win, if you’re patient and nitpicky enough. I’m not, every time. But when I can figure it out, it’s extremely satisfying.

ahhhh, relaxing

No video game designed by a human (except maybe Desert Bus) would make you click through a Mexican desert for twenty minutes before you got to anything useful, or reward the player who’s able to look through a map of Brazil for the longest time.

But I accept it in GeoGuessr, because the game world is the real world. If I don’t know enough about the real world to identify a name, or a landmark, or a type of terrain quickly, then it becomes a chance to figure it out. I am pretty good at recognizing languages on signs, and yesterday I learned all about how the Japanese organize their highway numbering systems vs. how the French do it.

It’s not all desolate roads, of course. You often land in cities, or once, the game spawned me inside an enclosed Tunisian parking lot with no route back out to the main road. (I got a very poor score on that round.) The game navigation is limited to what Google has mapped, so some areas are poorly photographed, or the navigation is incomplete. That, I think, is all part of the fun.

That said, let’s be clear: clicking around through a map of France or Wales or Texas looking for a specific road number or town name — on a map that hides small towns and roads when you’re zoomed out — is tedious.

But doing so has the effect of showing me how big the world really is, which I think we sometimes forget. I love it for that.

Play GeoGuessr in your browser, for free.

Loads of people play GeoGuessr on YouTube, too.

True Stuff from Old Books: The Pleasures of Camping Out


Last week, I returned from Comics Camp in Juneau, Alaska! It was really, really great. I made, renewed, and formalized many friendships, and I left camp more inspired, less cynical, and more joyful than I had been going in.

If you’ve seen my “True Stuff from Old Books” talk, you’ve probably heard me read this bit, from an 1886 Frank Leslie’s article called “Camping Out”:

Popular FOREVER, is what I say.

Stumbling across this particular article is what first gave me the idea to start compiling and sharing True Stuff from Old Books selections at all.

It succinctly illustrates my favorite characteristic of this sort of material: it’s a beacon from the past, telling those of us here in the future that we’re not alone. We who sometimes feel overwhelmed by the present are kin to those who felt the exact same way in the past, about their own present. The feeling is not a failing on our part; it is simply human nature.

The article begins:

MODERN civilization may well be described by the words so generally applied to fire: “A good servant, but a bad master.” At no previous period have the appliances for easy and comfortable living been so numerous or so generally distributed among all classes, and the men of to-day have much cause for congratulation compared even with those of a generation since.

Whether for purposes of business or pleasure, the number of man’s servants has of late greatly increased. The telegraph, the telephone, the locomotive and the steamship, the modern printing press, and thousands of minor devices which add immensely to the sum total of his pleasures, are all willing servants if properly used; but once in control, they become the hardest taskmasters.

The telegraph and telephone offer a ready and useful service at all times; but, again, they often become the most rigid fetters, binding a man’s whole life to the office and exchange. Steam has increased to an enormous extent the ease and pleasure of traveling, but it is now too often used as a means for a rapid rush from place to place, with none of the pleasures which accompany more deliberate travel; and the many other adjuncts are too generally misapplied as a means for accumulating a little more money or building up a short-lived fame at the expense of health and true enjoyment.

Men have come to live fast, rather than well. (Emphasis added)

That’s the part I normally read out loud.

But that’s just the introduction to a much longer article, which in its entirety is about the pleasures of disconnecting from society and reconnecting with the outdoors.

There’s an extended section making fun of the ill-preparedness of novice campers: “When the meal is finally ready, it is a mixture of partly burnt, partly raw food, mingled with ashes, bits of stick, etc., that would scarcely tempt the appetite of an ostrich, and that even our tired campers are glad to turn away from in spite of their hunger.” It’s funny, but that whole section is really long, so I won’t reprint it here — I’ve put in a separate post if you’d like to read it.

I thought I would share some other parts of the article, though, that mirror some of how I felt about Comics Camp.

Picking up from where the previous excerpt left off:

…Men have come to live fast, rather than well.

The wise man is he who, while appreciating and utilizing all these privileges to the fullest extent, has independence of mind sufficient to dispense with them at times, and to refresh himself and renew his life and vigor by a short return to mother earth, and a more primitive form of existence.

The average American, with his characteristic energy, is apt to devote himself early in life to some special object, which he probably will attain eventually, but for years he has time neither for rest nor pleasure. When he is in the position to enjoy a well-earned respite, all capacity for doing so has been lost, and he must remain a money-getting machine or die speedily of ennui.

The great importance of recreation, and especially of outdoor sports, was long lost sight of in the busy days of our earlier history, when a vigorous outdoor life was followed by most men from necessity, but there came a time, later on, when mercantile pursuits began to overbalance the agricultural, and it seemed as though the health of the nation must suffer from a too close devotion to work.

Comics Camp was an adjunct to the Alaska Robotics Mini-Con I mentioned in my last post. Perhaps some of you reading this were at the con! I had a lovely time there, it was a pleasure meeting readers from Alaska.

On the evening after the convention, we piled into a school bus and spent three nights at a church camp in the outskirts of Juneau.

a unique method of being inspired

…Fortunately a reaction has now set in. Men, and women too, realize the importance of more fresh air and outdoor exercise, and sports of all kinds were never in a more promising condition in America than they are to-day.

Each, from yachting to lawn-tennis, has its patrons and its proper place as an agent of health and a means to a higher physical life; but none is […] so pleasant and beneficial as a few weeks spent under canvas in the open air, or, as it is generally called, camping out.

There was no internet at the camp, but there were cabins, and campfires, and hiking, and crafts, and creative workshops led by peers for the benefit of peers, and lots of good food and conversation.


…What is needed is a period of rest and repose, free from all cares of business, with pleasant and healthful exercises and sport, and without too many of the inevitable deprivations and discomforts…

The permanent camps are fitted up rather more elaborately than those in tents. A stove of simple construction is fitted for cooking, chairs and tables of rustic design are improvised, beds are made of a rough framework covered with tightly stretched canvas, or hammocks are swung, and the walls are ornamented with trophies from the woods…

No morning paper breaks in with an unwelcome interruption. No stock “ticker” tells of rising or falling markets, and for a time the annoyances of business and the exactions of society may be neglected with impunity.

Without access to the internet, a question that could be Googled in five seconds would instead result in an impassioned 20-minute discussion. Without distractions, we found ourselves turning inward, to each other. I left my phone in my cabin most of the time (which is why some of these pictures are courtesy of pals).

We played a mini-LEGO tournament. I got second place, incredibly enough, but new friend Katie Shanahan was the champion!

We kept a list of things to Google when we got home. We joked about “calling up the internet” on a landline and trying to use touch-tone to navigate around a browser window.

Photo by Benjamin Soileau

Photo by Benjamin Soileau

…To some central point chosen for its natural beauty, Lake George or the Thousand Islands, come hundreds of pilgrims from all quarters, not strangers to each other, but nearly all bound by one common tie, whose greatest pleasure it is to meet together for a couple of weeks each year in the hearty companionship that a life in camp engenders.

Tents of all patterns are pitched by the score on the hillside and in the grove. Flags and pennants fly from high trees; at night huge camp-fires and rows of Chinese lanterns light the scene, while the inhabitants of this curious and ephemeral city vie with each other in the variety and brightness of their picturesque apparel.

The time is filled with races, fishing, short trips about the vicinity, in visits to the ladies’ camp a mile away; and, best of all, in the still hours of the Summer night, when the fire burns up from an enormous pyramid of wood on the highest hilltop, in songs and stories of other camps, of long cruises, of adventures on the Mississippi, on Lake Gorge, in the Everglades of Florida, in the wilds of Northwestern Canada and on the rivers of India — for the canoeist of to-day cruises everywhere — and wandering in distant lands, every experience is carefully treasured until the time when he returns, as all do, to this shrine of the craft, to be related to listening friends.

There were lots of good times around campfires. When it was ghost story time, I told a totally true one about a curious herring-boat vanishing from Helsinki and appearing in Reykjavík under mysterious circumstances.

When it was singalong time, we sang one of the old traditional favorites.

When it was late and cold and rainy, we huddled under sleeping bags and dared each other to stay up longer.

…After half an hour over pipe and book, the light is turned out, all is made snug, and the tired canoeist is soon dreaming of a Summer camp a year, instead of a fortnight, long.

Next morning he is up by sunrise, for time is very precious; his breakfast is ready; all is cleaned and packed away, and the canoe launched. Off again, under sail or paddle, he hurries here, or loiters there at will, stopping, perhaps, for dinner, and then off again, until he turns toward home in time to return to the white collar and black coat of civilization in the evening, or, at latest, to be at his desk in the office next morning.

Without glass houses we can throw all the stones we like

Photo by Kate Beaton

the shining light of pals on parade

they will know us by the marks we leave
On the final night, the camp band (Molly, Seth, Marian, and Nicole) sang a song about how much they loved and appreciated the hard work the camp cook was doing. Her name was Juste, so they sang a version of “Jesse’s Girl” that they changed to be about “Juste’s Grill.”

It was one of the sweetest things I’ve seen in a long time. It brought tears to my eyes, I will not lie.

It did not seem saccharine or silly. Nobody was too cool for school. We, citizens of the internet, had re-learned how to be sincere.

It was incredible.

everybody sing along

Photo by Jenn Klug

As I mentioned above, I also formalized a number of friendships. I came to believe in the value of putting a stake in the ground and saying, without ambiguity, “Yes. We, previously acquaintances or strangers, are now each other’s friends.”

friends FOREVER >:|

…Strange as it may seem, the life, like that of the sailor, has its own peculiar fascination — once away from it and amid the pleasures of the city, a restless longing takes possession of one which is satisfied but by a return to the freedom and vigor which only a close intimacy with earth, air and sky can give.

Truer words were never written.

Photo by Jeremy Spake

Photo by Jeremy Spake

Pat Race, pictured above, camp director and mastermind extraordinaire, has just opened a mailing list so folks can be informed about next year’s Comics Camp.

I hope you will consider it!!

JUST ADDED: Alaska Robotics Mini-Con, this weekend in Juneau!

bears are allowed too

A late addition to the schedule, but one I’m very excited about: this weekend I’m heading to Juneau, Alaska for the Alaska Robotics Mini-Con on Saturday!

Lots of cartoonists are coming from across the US and Canada, including Ryan North, Kate Beaton, Kazu Kibuishi, Tony Cliff and many others. The event is headed up by Pat Race, whom longtime readers will remember as the official Wondermark correspondent to the World Beard & Mustache Championships 2009 in Anchorage.

It’s a free show to attend (generously sponsored by many kind Juneau businesses) and I hope I get to meet some of you there on Saturday!

Roll-a-Sketch drawings from Seattle!

I just got back from the Emerald City Comicon in Seattle, and here are a few favorites of the many Roll-a-Sketch drawings I made for folks there!

Roll-a-Sketch, as longtime readers know, is something I do at conventions and other appearances: folks can roll some dice to select random words from a list, and then I have the task of combining those words into a creature!

It’s really fun for two reasons: (1) I never have to draw the same thing twice; and (2) the person commissioning the drawing has no say in what it becomes, and is sometimes even disappointed with the words that the dice choose for them — but nonetheless, they nearly always enjoy the result.

It’s a good life lesson in accepting matters out of one’s control, perhaps… as long as the person in whose control those matters are is me, and the matter’s stakes are limited to a creature drawing.

Click any image for a closer look!


I like how it has a method of flight AND a backup method of flight


my precious, terrible baby


weren't we all, one way or another

You can see how even when the prompts are similar, I try not to do the same drawing! (Here’s another particularly grotesque example.)


a bit of a cheesy joke


down to his last life probably


this will probably be the last 'hipster' I draw in Roll-a-Sketch

Finally: are you ready for this one???


I'm not even a dad and I made this joke

I would like to remind everyone that I am a professional comedy writer.

I also gave out some Roll-a-Sketch themed “Patron of the Arts” Cast Cards to folks in Seattle! I’ll have these particular cards at all my conventions this year — and I’ll probably do one brief online Roll-a-Sketch offering later toward the summer as well, for folks who can’t make it out to a convention.

oldie but a goodie

My next show will be Maker Faire in San Mateo, May 20-22!

If you will be attending Maker Faire, or are nearby in general, perhaps drop me a line — unlike at a comic convention, I don’t really know anybody at Maker Faire or have any insight into the haps (despite attending the show for many years).

I would love to have breakfast or dinner or drinks with some cool folks while I’m in town! The social element is a big part of what makes these shows fun, and I’m overdue to figure that out at this one. (I’m also still nailing down lodging for that one, so I’m open to any local tips or suggestions.)

Thanks to everyone who stopped by and said hello at ECCC! It was lovely to see you all. And thanks especially to the gentleman and his kids who are fans as a family of Boom! And a Bear Comes Out (the party hit of the summer). There are few things better than hearing a very small child sing back to you the silly song that you wrote about a bear hiding in things and then coming out of them. Raffi, eat your heart out.

A Brief Statement on Eating Cheetos with Chopsticks

The following photograph has crossed my desk quite a bit recently:

poe knows

In it, actor Oscar Isaac is pictured enjoying a bag of Cheetos with the aid of a pair of orange-stained chopsticks, his fingers pictured free of that same orange residuum.

I first came across the picture in this tweet, or one like it — I can’t seem to find the “original,” but this tweet links back to a Facebook page that is probably the source of the joke:

As longtime readers know, I advocated what Mr. Isaac is practicing — specifically, using chopsticks to eat Cheetos — back in 2010, in Wondermark episode #601, “The Discovery that Changed the World”.

I am certainly not the first person to have thought of it, and clearly I was not the last! However, I am very glad that this particular “life hack” has gained popularity, regardless of its provenance. It’s simply a better way to live.

In the time since I published my version, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the comic be spread far and wide. People post pictures of themselves eating Cheetos or popcorn or similar things, and hold up chopsticks, and tag me in the picture. And it’s become one of only about a dozen specific comics whose episode number I remember by heart, since I am often asked for prints of it.

The basic idea came to me several years before I made the comic. In 2006, I was working at an ad agency in Beverly Hills. I believe I was editing TV spots for the James Franco movie Tristan & Isolde — either that, or the James Franco movie Flyboys. I forget which it was; I worked on both, for the same agency, a few months apart.

The easiest place to get lunch was a Bristol Farms supermarket a few blocks away. If you’ve never been to Bristol Farms, it’s a sort of fancy, higher-end supermarket, similar to Whole Foods but without the sanctimony.

They had (or, presumably, still have) a sushi bar in that Bristol Farms. The experience of eating there inspired comic #171; In which Hiroshi misses the Point.

So, because of the sushi bar, there were always disposable chopsticks sitting out for the grabbin’, and I made a sort of game of it, trying to see if I could eat my lunch with chopsticks every day, no matter what it was. (It was usually a panini, and so the answer was usually “not without some difficulty.”)

Since I only had a brief period for lunch before I had to get back to hitting a keyboard with my fingers for hours, chopsticks quickly became the perfect tool to prolong the pleasure of a bag of Cheetos throughout the afternoon to come.

I don’t know why it took me four years to make a comic about it. I do remember my producer in those days calling out what I was doing, and I think it took seeing more and more surprised reactions before I realized that maybe it wasn’t 100% obvious to everyone that this was the best way to eat Cheetos. I had to come to the understanding that I’d made a discovery; I had experienced a revelation. (Similar to the time I accidentally came across a better salad fork.)

Once I actually made the comic, and I started to see that people were really responding to it, I briefly had the thought of contacting Frito-Lay and saying “Hey, maybe you could do a special thing, where you… I dunno, package chopsticks along with the bag? Or something? Is there any possible way that there could be money in this for me somehow?”

The pitch wasn’t really more refined than that, so you will not be surprised to learn it was never successful.

But every now and then, moments like Oscar Isaac, here, reassure me that word is indeed getting out, and lives are indeed being improved, one orange-stained chopstick at a time.

I don’t know if Mr. Isaac has ever seen the original comic; I’m sure the idea came to him via tenth-hand means, or perhaps he thought of it himself. But I am incredibly gratified to see that the idea is out there, and that it’s becoming obvious.

Does Frito-Lay know the secret? Surely they must have heard by now. Here is what seals the deal for me: A TV commercial from 2011, showing Chester Cheetah playing terrible piano with a lady in a piano shop.

They are playing — of course — “Chopsticks.”