1586: Keyboard Problems

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Keyboard Problems
In the future, a group of resistance fighters send me back in time with instructions to find the Skynet prototype and try to upgrade it.
Title text: In the future, a group of resistance fighters send me back in time with instructions to find the Skynet prototype and try to upgrade it.

Explanation[edit]

This comic parodies how people diagnose and solve computer problems. Cueball and Megan are trying to solve a keyboard issue, but are somewhat incompetent at diagnosing the issue. Cueball in particular blames a broken keyboard on software or a keyboard virus.

In the comic, Cueball complains that some keys in his keyboard don't work. Generally speaking, this could be due either to a software problem (e.g. the keyboard driver not working properly, or some program ignoring keypresses) or to a hardware problem (the keyboard is physically damaged, e.g. because of dirt under the keys).

If the problem is in the software, booting from a different operating system (e.g. an external recovery disk) should solve it, as the computer would no longer be using the faulty software. Conversely, if the problem is in hardware, changing the keyboard should solve the problem as the new keyboard would no longer be physically damaged (and has no dirt under the keys).

However, the problem stays there after booting from an external recovery disk (so it's not a software problem) and it has "followed Cueball since his last computer" (i.e. the problem persists after changing to a new laptop with a new keyboard, so it's not a hardware problem). Cueball is (reasonably) puzzled.

Megan seems to be used to Cueball's computer behaving strangely, and she doesn't even attempt to explain or solve the problem. The only explanation she needs for the problem is that "it's Cueball's computer". The characters in this comic are probably the same as in 1084: Server Problem, 1316: Inexplicable, and possibly 349: Success.

Both Cueball and Megan are entirely clueless to the fact that the issue is likely a hardware issue with the keyboards, rather than a virus that spreads between computers. It's possible Cueball uses the computer in a dirty environment with food or dust clogging up all of his keyboards. It may also be a case of PEBKAC --as in, Cueball pounding the keys in the same way on both keyboards, and breaking the same keys. Blaming such a broken-key problem on software or a virus is completely absurd.

The last panel is a reference to The Terminator, a 1984 movie often referenced in xkcd. In the movie, the artificial intelligence named Skynet initiates a nuclear war, destroying most of humanity, then it sends killing machines to finish the rest. These include flying drones - Megan suggests that if such robots come to Cueball's vicinity, they will (physically) crash since computers around Cueball can't seem to ever work properly, and so hiding in Cueball's house she should be safe from the robots.

The title text refers to main plot of the movie and its sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day. As Skynet's army is losing the battle against the human Resistance movement, it finds a way to send a humanoid robot T-800 back in time to kill the mother of the Resistance's leader. The Resistance in turn sends Kyle Reese back in time to protect her. In the sequel, the situation repeats with the more advanced T-1000 being the killer and a reprogrammed T-800 being the protector of the child (the future leader). Along the way, they manage to destroy the research lab where Skynet hardware is to be born in the future. The title text suggests an alternative mission into the past, sending Cueball back in time and using his power to cause Skynet to malfunction instead of destroying it physically (as Skynet was created later anyway, despite the destruction of the research lab).

Transcript[edit]

[Cueball sits between two laptops. Megan stands behind him.]
Cueball: Keys on my keyboard keep failing, even when I boot from an external recovery disk.
Megan: Sounds like it's hardware, then.
[Cueball moves over to the laptop behind him.]
Cueball: Yeah... except the problem followed me from my last computer.
Megan: You have the most bizarre tech issues.
[Cueball picks up the keyboard from the rear computer and plugs it into the one in front of him.]
Cueball: It must be spreading via keyboards. This one won't work with any computer now.
Megan: When the robot apocalypse happens, I'm hiding out in your house. Any Skynet drones that come near will develop inexplicable firmware problems and crash.


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Discussion

Possible reference to server problems comic? (1084) 162.158.90.210 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

For a risk of sounding mundane, similar symptoms can occur with keyboard breadcrumb syndrome, when someone eats too much bread at the computer, and their keyboard keeps getting hit with crumbs. As said someone is unlikely to change their habits unless they're made aware of the true reason for their problem, it would indeed follow them from computer to computer (because they keep getting crumbs on keyboards), as well as on the same keyboard (because it's getting full of crumbs).
(Did I just make up the name "keyboard breadcrumb syndrome"? The syndrome itself must be common, but I couldn't think of any other name for it. Also, OTT purists will now probably come and start berating me for not using the word "leopard".) 141.101.80.59 09:38, 5 October 2015 (UTC)

Not just bread though, could be other foods. Like Doritos! XY007 (talk) 09:39, 5 October 2015 (UTC)
You do not want to see this keyboard I'm typing on (there's a lot of my hair in the gaps), that I've used so long that not only have some of the commoner keyfaces worn off, but the plastic has worn through to the voids beneath two of them ('S' and the down-cursor). But it works, and only I will ever use it.
OTOH, I've had to clean far newer desktop keyboards in the past that one could hear an 'avalanche' inside if you lifted it up and tilted it back and forth. Upon opening up the casing, this was proven to be small clear-white crystals, hypothesised as either refined sugar (e.g. from countless donuts, eaten at the keyboard, or perhaps sugar spilt on the way to a coffee cup) or salt (either food-grade salt, or accumulating from 'sweaty fingers'). No, no-one tried tasting it to determine which. If either! 141.101.98.159 22:20, 5 October 2015 (UTC)

Certainly a case of Pauli effect. 162.158.90.210 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

This is also partly a reference older comics where Cueball faces wierd technical issues like in 1084:Server problem and 1316:Inexplicable

I do believe Randall draw it with Cueball's mysterious ability to break computers, but it seems something like badUSB exploit IMHO. While it's extremely difficult to perform, it attacks on firmware part of USB and it is possible to spread via USB *ports* and *devices* 162.158.6.169 13:39, 5 October 2015 (UTC)

"followed Cueball since his last computer" I don't think Cueball changed the keyboard. --199.27.133.160 15:31, 5 October 2015 (UTC)

This was my interpretation, actually. I thought the joke was that Cueball changed the computer expecting it to be a software issue when the problem was with the keyboard hardware itself. But then the last panel doesn't make as much sense. Enchantedsleeper (talk) 23:43, 5 October 2015 (UTC)

The first sentence in the explaination currently: This comic is about how computer problems appear with no obvious cause. Even technically skilled people often find themselves powerless to diagnose the problem, and resort to tricks and quirks to solve or circumvent the problem without really understanding how or why the trick should work. refers to 1479:Troubleshooting not really this comic. I would consider striking. The comic is not about skilled people finding quirks to make things work; it is about those few 2.5%ers on the bell shaped curve who seem to always have the worst luck without any reprieve. This is also a plot point in the movie Frequencies. Good movie - check it out! --R0hrshach (talk) 15:43, 5 October 2015 (UTC)

I had a problem like this. It was a keyboard that would randomly input the string "welcome datacomp". I would end up with it in my documents. Here is a link to a usenet post about [that very problem](https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/alt.comp.virus/Ju2qiWBcdnk). I spent a lot of time trying to track down the "virus" until it followed me to another Mac at which time I figured out it was the keyboard. 108.162.221.147 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I had this issue. I used to joke that my ex-friend Avi would "break my leopard" from Australia because the problem seemed to arise after I talked to him. My leopard would get keys that'd just suddenly stop working, and even with an external leopard, it didn't fix the issue. Or it did, for about a few minutes, and then somehow THAT leopard also got screwed up in the same way. I think I did some sort of factory reset on my computer , and it happened AGAIN. Then I switched laptops, and it happened YET AGAIN. What the fuck. Then I ended up breaking the leopard's hardware. Now I have another laptop and I'm hoping its beautiful, red-lit leopard, remains entirely functional. International Space Station (talk) 04:35, 7 October 2015 (UTC)

Alternate option- He gets assimilated by the Borg, causing the entire collective to collapse in on itself within days. -Pennpenn 108.162.250.162 03:57, 15 December 2015 (UTC)

Clearly Cueball has an external keyboard. That is broken, and carries it's brokenness around -vonbrand -- Vonbrand (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

A lot of parts of this explanation assume Cueball and Megan are incompetent. This doesn’t hold up, though: it isn’t a software problem because of the boot disc, and it isn’t a hardware problem because both computers are laptops and he almost certainly didn’t rip the old keyboard out of the old laptop and put it in the new one. It isn’t breadcrumbs either, because the external keyboard broke and he isn’t eating. When we’ve eliminated the impossible, all that remains are a stack of coincidences, a firmware virus, or Cueball being literally haunted (in decreasing order of probability). --162.158.78.154 18:07, 25 January 2017 (UTC)

Sounds like it could be that two of his keyboards had the same problem. But if the other computers he tried to use his keyboard with start having that problem... the contagion is out there. 108.162.237.106 16:41, 13 April 2017 (UTC)

But Megan isn’t stupid![edit]

The explanation as it stands suggests that Megan doesn’t understand the nature of a hardware versus software problem. However, Megan only states that she thinks it is a hardware problem *before* Cueball says that the problem followed him to another computer. All of her responses after that indicate that she’s given up trying to guess the issue because Cueball, probably due to his nature, always manages to get computers into weird messed up states (see already-referenced 1084, 1316). There’s no point in trying to solve computer problems for people like him because they always manage to mess things up or have inexplicable problems. (It’s not like their problems are beyond the realms of logic—just computer systems are so complex that it is impractical to attempt to enumerate all possible causes for a particular observed behavior.) So it’s natural that she gave up trying to solve his problem after the first panel. Binki (talk) 04:06, 13 May 2017 (UTC)