I’m enough of a geek that I almost always get xkcd. But when yesterday’s “RPS” comic popped up in my RSS sidebar I was nonplussed. I must suddenly have felt I had more free time than I actually do, because when I restarted Firefox later today and found myself staring at the comic again, I googled for “rps.” This yielded a variety of unrelated pages, but nothing that seemed likely to be linked. But I did notice that “rps” was apparently the 100th most popular search in the past hour.
Looks as though I’m not alone in my inadequate geekery. Geekitude? Obviously I need some English lessons too. Speaking of geekery, notice the link to the World Rock Paper Scissors Society up there? Teehee.
Searching for the full “reverse polish sausage” yielded a bunch of direct hits. In fact, “reverse polish sausage” was the 28th most popular search in the past hour! Ever perspicacious, I deemed this to be Not a Coincidence.
The ones I clicked on either masqueraded as some sort of malware scanner and tried to install some (malware, that is) on my computer, or contained an ad banner, something that looked like a flash video player (I didn’t click), and a bunch of text with a high proportion of the words “reverse,” “polish,” and “sausage” to lead the search engine to it. Some had pictures of Polish sausages. Nice touch. Some numbnuts (possibly some numbnuts’ computer) is watching the Google search trends for the purpose of reeling people in with garbage web pages. One heartening result was a blog entry referring to the comic.
Back to the Google trend: the graph is actually pretty neat. Notice how the plot for “rps,” which locate some actual valid sites (Royal Photographic Society, anyone?), shows some searches before yesterday evening (PDT), whereas “reverse polish sausage” is pretty much flat at zero until the comic comes out. This serves to illustrate just what an attractive target this hot search phrase makes: it’s really easy to be near the top of the search results while there are hardly any pages already out there with that particular combination of words in them.
So finally. What’s the comic about? It’s not, as I feared, some very rude web meme. It’s a silly pun for Reverse Polish Notation (Wikipedia), one convention for which order to put your numbers and mathematical operators in.
So it transpires that I’m just about nerdy enough — or is it that I’m nerdy enough, and just about old enough? — to have got that one but I missed it. Now young G, on the other hand, has recently figured out walking while holding on to things. She has used this new ability to make her way to the calculator her Dad left on the coffee table, and is tapping away soberly at the keys. Is she born to be a geek (nature and nurture both somewhat stacking the odds here), or is she just wondering why this mobile phone has such a small crappy display?
Now that I’ve spent the time musing over this, what are the odds I will sink more time when the next xkcd comic comes out, checking to see whether the reference was obscure enough to cause a blip in Google trends?
Final note: I see there’s a link on the xkcd page now to the Wikipedia entry on Reverse Polish Notation so this must have been unusually obscure. As of 20:30 BST, October 5th 2009, there is no Wikipedia entry for Reverse Polish Sausage.