Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Complex computer programs often incorporate a numbering system for errors that are anticipated might occur. This way, the code can be referenced to tech support so that there is some feedback from the program as to what is wrong (akin to a car dashboard with multiple lights telling you if you have a battery problem or an engine problem or a cooling problem, etc.) Most people have seen at least one error code in their life. Perhaps the most famous error code is seen in web browsers, 404 (not found). Another code is 403 (forbidden).
In this comic, character 1 gets the error "-41" on his computer, but cannot tell even what program it comes from. So, character 2 decides to look up the code in a book apparently called Error Codes. The book then indicates to go to a lake instead of how to resolve the computer problem. Which seems like a great solution because it would be very relaxing!
The beep codes referenced in the title text refers to the error codes produced by motherboards. Because the motherboard is sort of the “heart” of the computer, the designers apparently did not want to rely on any form of error display that might be compromised by the error itself (i.e. a visual display). Instead, motherboards typically have a code consisting of beeps from the system “pc” speaker which is expected to work without error in most situations, as it’s wired directly to the motherboard. In a sort of morse-code-type system, certain lengths and numbers of beeps refer to different errors like memory problems, video card problems, etc. The one quick beep that occurs on boot sequences is the POST (Power On Self-Test) beep, which detects vital parts of the system, like motherboard, memory, monitor, etc. The beep indicates that everything necessary to boot is present. Anyone who has built a few computers is probably familiar with less happy beep sequences.
It is possible Randall wanted comic number 1024 to be about computers because 1024 is a significant number in computer systems: it is exactly 210, and as such is sometimes used instead of 1000 as the power constant for file sizes for the sake of easier binary arithmetic. This was referenced in 1000: 1000 Comics.
- [Cueball sits at a computer, while a friend takes a book off a shelf behind him.]
- Cueball: "Error -41"? That's helpful. It doesn't even say which program it's from!
- Friend: -41? I'll look it up...
- [The friend looks at the book.]
- Friend:: It says -41 is: "Sit by a lake."
- [The two walk.]
- [The two sit down.]
- [A large, in-color painting of a lake with pond lilies.]
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- [The two are still sitting.]
- Cueball: I don't know where you got that book, but I like it.
- Friend:: Hasn't been wrong yet.
The joke is probably that "sit by a lake" is the name of the tune corresponding with motherboard error -41
Motherboard error codes are not numbered like other error codes are. Motherboard error codes are just referred to by how the beeps sound (ex. 1 long, 2 short) Luke1042
Personally, of all motherboard beeping codes, I always liked "No beep = Power supply, system board problem, disconnected CPU, or disconnected speaker...." (Well, when not suffering it myself. And even then I could stand it when it was just the latter and thus of no immediate consequence...) 188.8.131.52 22:04, 2 April 2013 (UTC)
- Well then, laptop computers dont beep at all, I guess that must mean that something is always missing --184.108.40.206 03:03, 26 November 2013 (UTC)
- Yes. You are missing a Desktop. 220.127.116.11 20:49, 14 May 2014 (UTC)BK201
This is one of my favourite xkcd comics, it makes me take a long breath and just chill out a bit. Probably the only comic that could be described as 'relaxing' 18.104.22.168 20:13, 5 May 2013 (UTC)
Unfortunately the beep codes thing is archaic. Most new computers built since the early to mid-2000s haven't made a beep - instead, the trend has been to rely on visual codes from built-in LEDs (and, later on, from pairs of eight-segment displays relaying hex codes). So a modern code will run from 00 to FF - but it will also be completely silent. 22.214.171.124 11:47, 25 February 2014 (UTC)
- Every computer ever booted in my presence, some before many during and a few shortly after stated time period as well as several brand new this year, has beeped at the end of the POST, with one exception. That one would have beeped, but it's PC speaker was removed because it annoyed the owner. So I don't think hex code error indicators have quite made beepcodes "archaic".--guest 08:46, 15 June 2014 (UTC)
- I built my own computer about a year ago, with a motherboard that was quite modern. It definitely uses beep codes. 126.96.36.199 04:34, 22 October 2014 (UTC)
The guy at the computer is Cueball, isn't he? So Cuball and friend is the common way here. If not, the the category Category:Comics featuring Cueball has also to be removed. But I don't see that. --Dgbrt (talk) 20:02, 23 April 2014 (UTC)
Anyone got any idea what the yellow things in the lake are? They look like they should be significant? 188.8.131.52 05:48, 15 July 2014 (UTC)
- Those are lily pad flowers. Before they bloom they look like small balls, and some are yellow. 184.108.40.206 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
The guy at the computer should say at the first panel "That's UNhelpful" instead of "That's helpful", shouldn't he? Or maybe I don't know something in english? 220.127.116.11 09:35, 7 June 2014 (UTC)
It's called a sarcastic comment, though it's technically irony. It's very common for english speaking people to say "well, that's helpful" when the intended understanding is exactly the opposite.--guest
08:41, 15 June 2014 (UTC)