Universal Rating Scale

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Today's xkcd:

Mouseover title: "There are plenty of finer gradations. I got 'critically endangered/extinct in the wild' on my exam, although the curve bumped it all the way up to 'venti.'"

Then there are the wild cards, like 'interesting'.


  1. bks said,

    July 7, 2020 @ 6:34 am

    I didn't know that "T for Teen" was a thing.

  2. James said,

    July 7, 2020 @ 7:00 am

    It's a video game rating, bks.

  3. John from Cincinnati said,

    July 7, 2020 @ 7:02 am

    Welcome to the world of video game ratings, provided by ESRB, self-regulatory body for the video game industry. "E" for everyone. "E 10+" for ages 10 and up. "T" for teen, ages 13 and up. "M" for mature, ages 17 and up. "AO" for adults only, ages 18 and up. (And "RP", rating pending.)

  4. jaap said,

    July 7, 2020 @ 7:53 am

    Whenever there is an XKCD with something I don't get, or when I think I'm missing some nuance, there is always explainxkcd to help me out.

  5. Nick Montfort said,

    July 7, 2020 @ 7:56 am

    Well, it's upside down! That makes it a lot less universal.

    This is pervasively discussed in contemporary metaphor theory by Lakoff, Johnson, and others: an UP-DOWN oriented LINEAR SCALE is based on the experiences of adding to a heap, pouring water into a container, even trying to ring a bell at the state fair gives you more/better at the top and less/worse at the bottom.

    I presume Randall Munroe thought that the things that are less/worse are funnier, so put them where we start reading instead of where we end up.

  6. unekdoud said,

    July 7, 2020 @ 9:06 am

    One of my favorite parts is the placement of A+ and S between AA and AAA.

  7. John Shutt said,

    July 7, 2020 @ 9:43 am

    The question of up-down orientation puts me in mind of the question in computer science of what direction the system stack grows in. Terminology for stacks uses "top" for the most recently added item, which would therefore come off the stack first, with "above/below" and "up/down" used similarly when discussing internal relations on the stack. (For that matter, "push" to add something, "pop" to remove something, even though usually stacks are implemented such that the contents of the stack don't move, only the pointer to where the "top" is.) But typically a system stack starts at the highest address in memory and grows downward by decrementing the stack pointer (indicating where the "top" is), keeping the stack as far out of the way of other memory usage as possible. One wonders how heavily Randall's preferred metaphor is affected by systems programming.

  8. John from Cincinnati said,

    July 7, 2020 @ 9:46 am

    An upside-down outlier: According to the Wikipedia article on Celsius, in 1742 one Anders Celsius, Swedish astronomer, created a temperature scale in which zero was the boiling point of water and 100 was the freezing point of water. The article includes an illustration of his original thermometer with zero at the top and 150 at the bottom. It does not explain why Celsius chose to have higher correspond to colder. As a matter of linguistic interest, by the 19th century the worldwide scientific community had more-or-less settled on degrees Centigrade (not Celsius) for a temperature scale that was based on the reverse of the 1742 one, but there was a problem with that. In Spanish and French the word centigrade refers not to temperature but to a fractional angular measurement, where one grad equals 90 degrees. And so in 1948, the folks in charge of defining SI units formally adopted "degrees Celsius", symbol "°C", for the temperature scale.

  9. Philip Taylor said,

    July 7, 2020 @ 10:08 am

    But was said Anders a /ˈsels i‿əs/ or a /ˈkels i‿əs/ ?

  10. Robert Coren said,

    July 7, 2020 @ 10:13 am

    This being xkcd, I assume it's deliberate that there's a second instance of "5" where I would have expected "9", although I'm sure I don't know what the idea behind that is.

  11. David Morris said,

    July 7, 2020 @ 10:14 am

    It goes all the way to 11. One fictional guitarist will be pleased.

  12. Gregory Kusnick said,

    July 7, 2020 @ 10:44 am

    And 11 obviously has to be at the bottom, since it's the punchline.

  13. Theophylact said,

    July 7, 2020 @ 10:49 am

    The second instance 5 is "on a scale of 1 to 5".

  14. KevinM said,

    July 7, 2020 @ 10:57 am

    What, no DEFCON?

  15. mollymooly said,

    July 7, 2020 @ 11:08 am

    Per the aforementioned explainxkcd, the 'second instance of "5"' actually an S.

  16. Misha Schutt said,

    July 7, 2020 @ 12:19 pm

    I read somewhere that the stack metaphor (”push” and ”pop”) was based on the stack of dishes in an industrial kitchen, where they’re stacked on a spring-mounted base in a hole in the counter, so that as dishes are added the base goes down and the top dish is always at pretty much the same level no matter how many dishes in the stack. So the stack actually does move with each push or pop.

  17. Andreas Johansson said,

    July 7, 2020 @ 12:39 pm

    @Philip Taylor:

    The modern Swedish is ['sɛlːsiɵs]. 18C pronunciation may have been somewhat different, but the final vowel was definitely not reduced to schwa.

  18. Philip Taylor said,

    July 7, 2020 @ 12:59 pm

    Thank you, Andreas. I wonder why I thought that it might start with a hard 'C'. Perhaps by analogy with "Celtic", which admits of both depending on context.

  19. David Udin said,

    July 7, 2020 @ 2:04 pm

    My wife has an electric blanket whose control knob (continuous, not with detentes) goes to 22. We were impressed: clearly twice as good as 11.

  20. maidhc said,

    July 7, 2020 @ 5:41 pm

    Anyone old enough to remember IBM 360/370 computers will no doubt remember the associated IBM 132-column line printer. (The one that people used to program to play "Anchors Aweigh".)

    I was always curious how this particular width was chosen. Of course it has to be able to print the image of a 80-column punch card, plus a sequence number. (The size of the punch card was supposedly based on a dollar bill in the 1880s.)

    I was touring the Computer History Museum, and looking at one of those printers, when another guest exclaimed "I designed that!" This was the ideal opportunity to clear up the mystery.

    The retired IBM engineer explained that the competition was making a 120-column printer, and his boss decided that theirs should be 10% better.

  21. John Swindle said,

    July 7, 2020 @ 9:57 pm

    @maidhc: Wonderful!

  22. Philip Taylor said,

    July 8, 2020 @ 7:59 am

    Although I managed to avoid using an IBM mainframe for my entire lift, I was certainly aware that DEC VT-series terminals could operate in 80 column and 132 column modes, and even today (in 2020) when I need to expand the width of a CMD box I normally specify 132 as the desired width.

  23. KeithB said,

    July 8, 2020 @ 8:32 am

    Why would an NC-17 film be "better" than a PG one? Is "A Clockwork Orange" inherently better than "Chariots of Fire"?

  24. Robert Coren said,

    July 8, 2020 @ 10:21 am

    @mollymooly: So it is. So I guess what's not an accident but I can't explain is what happened to 9.

    @KeithB: "Higher", not necessarily "better".

  25. Philip Taylor said,

    July 8, 2020 @ 2:14 pm

    "Higher", not necessarily "better" — Indeed so. Remember "Why is a mouse when it spins ?", to which the answer is "Because the higher, the fewer".

  26. David Morris said,

    July 8, 2020 @ 3:58 pm

    I vaguely remember having an electric blanket with the settings 00, 11 and 22.

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