1812: Onboarding

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Onboarding
'So we just have a steady flow of metal piling up in our server room? Isn't that a problem?' 'Yeah, you should bring that up at our next bismuth meeting.'
Title text: 'So we just have a steady flow of metal piling up in our server room? Isn't that a problem?' 'Yeah, you should bring that up at our next bismuth meeting.'

[edit] Explanation

This is another one of Beret Guy's mysterious businesses, in which he shows new employee Ponytail around the building in which the company resides. The process of showing a new employee around the business and starting to get them introduced to people and systems and procedures is often referred to as "onboarding" - hence the title of the comic.

[edit] Existential Welcome

The first panel starts out as a typical welcoming of the new employee to a small indie business. Very quickly, however, Beret Guy's explanation jumps to an existential viewpoint. Very rarely do conversations or introductions involve discussing the eventual fate of our bodies, and certainly not in a professional light as in this comic. Beret Guy, however, has no problem with discussing death and decay as just part of his business. This seemingly contradicts the title text in 1493: Meeting, where it is claimed that employees of the company can not physically die. However, this could be a new company he has started since then. Alternatively, this is a literal statement, perhaps related to the cursed Wi-Fi mentioned later in the comic.

[edit] Bikeshare

In the second panel, Beret Guy shows Ponytail the free bikeshare system this business apparently has in place. Bikesharing is a system in which many users share one or more bikes among themselves. Typically the bikes belong to some of the members of the group who are allowing them to be used by other members who may not have one, but Beret Guy calmly remarks that this system will only exist "until whoever owns those bikes finds out", implying that they were not donated or shared by any member of the group, but are being used without permission or the knowledge of the true owner of the bikes. This is, thus, not actually a bikeshare, and would be more properly described as theft.

[edit] Printer

In the third panel, Beret Guy shows Ponytail that the laserjet is over there and the printer is over there, thus indicating that the laserjet is not a printer. This is a bit disconcerting, since the HP LaserJet is in fact a common brand of laser printer, suggesting that his laserjet may be some rather more exotic device, such as a laser-propelled jet aircraft.[relevant xkcd title text] In any case, however, the printer is not available, as it's been printing an infinite-scroll web page since 2013.

An infinite-scrolling web page is a web page that, as the name implies, seems to have no end. This style of webpage typically has no definite pages or sections, but instead continues to feed data to the screen as the user scrolls. In reality, trying to print one of these would only print the current section the user was viewing, and even if it was somehow able to infinitely print, the operator could theoretically cancel the operation at any time. Either this continuous printing serves some useful purpose, e.g. prints latest news, or he doesn't know how to stop it/does not care. Mistaken print jobs are sometimes notoriously difficult to stop due to many levels of buffering (application, printer driver, OS spooler, print server, printer device) and lapses in job control software.

Infinite scrolling (in the sense of an annoying UI design style for browsing large but finite documents) was previously covered in 1309: Infinite Scrolling. A similar separation of the phrase "laserjet printer" has been explored in 1681: Laser Products.

[edit] Infrastructure Buzzwords

In the fourth panel, Beret Guy makes three more remarks.

Restrooms are all-digital—no pipes. While many technology standards nowadays are entirely digital, one's restroom is one of the things that most definitely should not be. A restroom without pipes would have no way to transfer bodily waste, and would most certainly be at the very least an unpleasant encounter. This could also be a pun joking with the fact that a common (in the past and reappearing recently) technology in sound amplifiers is the use of tubes, but nowadays most sound amplifiers are all-digital. So a "latest technology" restroom cannot have pipes (synonym of tubes) and has to be all-digital.

The Wi-Fi is very fast, but cursed. Fast Wi-Fi is certainly desirable, but in this case, he claims it is also cursed. Whether the curse is a side-effect of the fast Wi-Fi or totally unrelated is left unsaid, as well as what the curse is. This could possibly be a joke relating to American slang: all technology can behave inexplicably from time to time, and Wi-Fi is notorious for randomly losing connection -- this is often exaggerated and called "cursed". Knowing Beret Guy, though, it's probably literal.

Our server room is carbon-neutral but produces bismuth constantly. Normally, carbon-neutral would mean that it is designed to be environmentally friendly by reducing and offsetting its carbon emissions enough that it has no net effect on the environment. The term is a little bit confusing because the meaning is of course carbon-dioxide-neutral. But while carbon is not a common material used in servers, bismuth is used as lead replacement in solder. While this replacement is often used because of the toxicity of lead, in this case it refers to an IBM mainframe computer where the Bi58Sn42 alloy is used because of its low temperature soldering characteristics. So producing bismuth would destroy all the electric connections in the server. An alternative explanation is a compact nuclear reactor in the server room which can both make the server room carbon-neutral and leak bismuth (by creating it in the reactor).

[edit] Lin-Manuel Miranda

In the last two panels, Beret Guy explains that Ponytail will be working on the infrastructure, which is apparently maintained by Lin-Manuel Miranda. He is among other things a songwriter but certainly not an engineer or anyone qualified to be responsible for an entire infrastructure. Ponytail knows about his songs and thus surprised asks if he is also an engineer. (This echoes 1665: City Talk Pages, which includes a train station designed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, a composer best known for writing The Phantom of the Opera).

It is worth noting that Beret Guy actually acknowledges the mistake here, claiming the mistake "cost a fortune." This is unusual for Beret Guy, as he has of yet failed to acknowledge or recognize the oddity of every other aspect of his mysterious business, many of which are certainly stranger than this. However, he doesn't seem to mind this at all and do not wish to fire him. Instead he plans on fixing the mistake by hiring a real network engineer, Ponytail, to replace Lin-Manuel Miranda. Because, as Beret Guy continues to explain, the bright side of having Lin-Manuel Miranda in his business overshadows the lost fortune. Apparently Lin-Manuel Miranda is really nice and he makes karaoke nights fun, a clear reference to his songwriting ability.

Off screen, Lin-Manuel Miranda is heard singing "How Far I'll Go", which is a song that he composed for the recent Disney movie Moana. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song in the 2017 show just a few weeks prior to this comic.

[edit] Title Text

The title text mentions the potential dangers of having your server room constantly produce bismuth, but only as a prelude to a bismuth/business pun. Because of the earlier carbon reference, it could also be a parallel to the difficulty in convincing businesses to become more energy efficient and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, even though climate change is accelerating and these things are becoming urgent to the survival of life as we know it, as Randall has often referred to in xkcd most vividly with 1732: Earth Temperature Timeline.

[edit] Transcript

[Beret Guy shakes hands with Ponytail in front of a building while he points at the two large double doors under an unreadable sign.]
Beret Guy: Hi! Welcome to the team!
Beret Guy: We do business here and we'll turn into dirt later.
[Beret Guy and Ponytail walk by three bikes.]
Beret Guy: This is our main campus.
Beret Guy: We have a free bikeshare system, at least until whoever owns those bikes finds out.
[Beret Guy points forward as they walk on.]
Beret Guy: The LaserJet is over there, and the printer is over there.
Beret Guy: You can't use it right now; it's been printing an infinite-scroll webpage since 2013.
[Zoom in on their heads.]
Beret Guy: Restrooms are all-digital - no pipes.
Beret Guy: The WiFi is very fast, but cursed.
Beret Guy: Our server room is carbon-neutral but produces bismuth constantly.
[Beret Guy has turned towards an off-panel Ponytail holding a hand out towards her.]
Beret Guy: You'll be working on our infrastructure, which is currently maintained by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
[Zoom out to both facing each other. From the right singing is heard from off-panel, as indicated with two musical notes.]
Ponytail: ...The songwriter? Is he also an engineer?
Beret Guy: Nope, huge misunderstanding on our part. Cost a fortune. But he's really nice and it makes karaoke nights fun.
Lin-Manuel Miranda (off-panel): How far I'll gooo


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Discussion

Carbon actually is used a lot in servers. Plastics, which are heavily used in electronics, are made of carbon chains. 172.68.54.40 14:05, 27 March 2017 (UTC)

Uff, Americans really say "carbon-neutral". Taking this literally and there is no greenhouse problem, only some black dirt... Nevertheless bismuth is an important element in electronics, not only IBM.--Dgbrt (talk) 08:43, 17 March 2017 (UTC)

Given that this is Beret Guy, it doesn't have to mean solder. It's entirely possible one of his mysterious shops has sold him a generator that burns bismuth powder or something; in which case "produces bismuth" would really mean releasing it into the atmosphere in the same was most power plants release carbon. Or some kind of nuclear process that does actually produce bismuth. Or maybe someone's told him to use a server once then recycle it, and due to not knowing what they're doing the recycling team has ended up with a massive surplus of one metal. All crazy options, but this is a guy who's plumbed soup into the electrical system, so… who knows? -- 162.158.154.187 13:42, 17 March 2017 (UTC)
Carbon is a solid like bismuth. No power plant releases carbon, this American inaccuracy about "carbon-neutral" is part of the joke because "carbon-dioxide-neutral" would be correct. More on bismuth see below.--Dgbrt (talk) 03:47, 18 March 2017 (UTC)

Considering Beret Guy has shown that he was able to get soup from an electric outlet, maybe those all-digital restrooms are actually able to digitize bodily waste to dispose of it easily.--141.101.88.22 08:52, 17 March 2017 (UTC)

Digital Restrooms - no pipes. You have to move the wase by hand, and a hand has fingers == digits? 162.158.91.233 10:09, 17 March 2017 (UTC)

Is it just me? Digital restrooms with no pipes together with the mention of cursed WiFi did remind me of those tubes the internet is made of [1]... ;-) --Felis Catus (talk) 11:04, 17 March 2017 (UTC)
Yes, that was my reaction also. 108.162.222.10 11:38, 17 March 2017 (UTC)

Lin-Manuel Miranda did some skits on PBS's The Electric Company. I suspect that is the reference to the mistake. 00:53, 18 March 2017 (UTC)

Bismuth?

Might this be over complicating things a bit? Carbon is an element. Bismuth is another element, albeit a more improbable one.

That may be the only joke: they have no carbon footprint but instead spew massive amounts of bismuth, which what?

To suggest this is a joke about nuclear reactor technology or (very old) mainframe assembly technology seems to be a stretch. 14:20, 17 March 2017 (UTC) Skeptic

I'm inclined to agree with Skeptic; I actually think the sole point of using bismuth might have been to make the horrible pun in the alt-text. 15:09, 17 March 2017 (UTC) CGH

Antimony is used as a replacement for lead in common solder. Bismuth is used in low temperature solder. I have some coils of it somewhere on the desk here. (It's tough soldering to LEDs on star boards!) ExternalMonolog (talk) 14:35, 17 March 2017 (UTC)

TBH I was wondering if the bismuth/business joke was also a slight reference to Steven Universe, since the comic Hoverboard would indicate Randall is familiar with the show. 108.162.246.185 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I read bismuth as a pun on bi-monthly (or bi-month) for short. Most teams within a business will have a regular meeting every week or fortnight - the latter happening (typically) twice a month. 'Business' sounds closer, but doesn't fit so well logically for me. -- Ray

I don't think the SU connection is very likely because there's no real connection made to the show. I think that the first mention is just for the surrealism of it producing something unrelated to (and much less common than) carbon, and the second just for the pun (which, if I'm honest, probably made me laugh harder than all the actual good jokes on xkcd over the years). 162.158.155.68 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I actually mentioned the SU thing because that specific pun (bismuth/business) is used several times by the character Bismuth. 108.162.246.185 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

There are in fact two possibilities for the source of bismuth:

  • Since 2006 in the European Union the usage of lead is restricted (see: RoHS). Like many other manufacturers IBM adopts this regulations on its Baseline Environmental Requirements For Supplier Deliverables to IBM for "Lead in solders for servers, storage and storage array systems." A common replacement is bismuth. Furthermore tin-bismuth has the advantage of its low melting point when used as solder.
  • The smallest lead-bismuth cooled reactor Gen4 Energy would not fit into a server room. But a coal plant doesn't either so the statement needs some rework.

So both possibilities make sense but only the solder is actually in use. No such reactor is build yet, it's only a design proposal.--Dgbrt (talk) 03:47, 18 March 2017 (UTC)

I'd agree with those above to remove reference to bismuth coming from mainframe solder - that would be 'extracting,' not producing. Whatever the mechanism, IMO the reasons are for the pun and ... because bismuth is stunningly beautiful! Miamiclay (talk) 18:59, 18 March 2017 (UTC)

I'm amazed how far discussions can go to find the hidden meaning of a nonsensical sentence. Shirluban 141.101.88.106 12:27, 21 March 2017 (UTC)

I agree with Shirluban, LOL! Remember, this is Beret Guy. He often mentions impossible things. I understand this to mean that something about how the server works makes it literally magically eject pieces of bismuth. And so does (presumably) Ponytail, as she predicts that metal piles up in the server room, which Beret Guy confirms. It seems pointless to try to figure out how this could realistically happen, Beret Guy is by nature unrealistic. :)

As for "carbon-neutral", it's my understanding that this is a widely accepted shortcut for the term "carbon-dioxide-neutral", just that this shortcut has the unintended side effect of leaving less intelligent people unaware that the "dioxide" is implied, and therefore thinking there's something wrong with carbon itself. I'm certain that this comic by no means is referencing carbon - the solid metal - itself. - NiceGuy1 162.158.126.76 04:38, 22 March 2017 (UTC)

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