1349: Shouldn't Be Hard

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Shouldn't Be Hard
(six hours later) ARGH. How are these stupid microchips so durable?! All I want is to undo a massive industrial process with household tools!
Title text: (six hours later) ARGH. How are these stupid microchips so durable?! All I want is to undo a massive industrial process with household tools!


This comic refers to a statement sometimes made by computer programmers, most commonly when they are just beginning to learn a new computer language. (Sometimes much later than their first learnings, though.) Sometimes because of difficulties with the syntax rules of the language or similar problems, a programmer may spend a long time trying to get the computer to do a simple action, such as display a message on the screen, or ask the user for a number. "What I'm trying to do is simple—it shouldn't be hard." The statement can also be made when simply using computer software, not writing it, such as trying to get a spreadsheet to do something in Excel. (Add up the dollar amounts for sales marked "completed", for example.)

In the first panel, Cueball is frustrated from trying to get his computer to do something. (We are not told what.) He states that because what he is trying to do is really simple, it shouldn't be hard to get the computer to do it.

Offscreen, someone points out to Cueball that as computer chips are primarily made of silicon (also the basic ingredient in sand), computers are really just carefully organized sand. This points out by implication the number of levels of complexity between the simple arrangement of matter in sand, and a computer which can actually be given instructions and carry them out. The offscreen character concludes: "EVERYTHING is hard until someone makes it easy."

In the third panel, Cueball sits for a moment to digest this idea.

In the fourth panel, because of his frustrations, Cueball contemplates turning the computer BACK into sand—or more exactly, burning it down into a simpler form of matter—because despite its complex arrangement of parts into microchips, etc., he can't easily get the computer to do what he wants. The offscreen character says he (or she) will get a blowtorch, the purpose being to allow Cueball to melt down the computer into simple compounds and elements.

The title text refers to the manufacturing power and machines necessary to manufacture microchips, which Cueball is having difficulty undoing with simple household tools. Since it takes very large machines, intricately machined components and a lot of electrical power to assemble microchips, it is not necessarily simple to undo the process with household tools such as a handheld blowtorch—something like trying to undo a steel weld by lighting a wooden match and trying to melt the weld with it. It could also be a pun that destrying the processor is even harder to do than the task from the first picture.


[Cueball is typing on a laptop.]
Cueball: What I'm trying to do is really simple.
Cueball: It shouldn't be hard.
Offscreen: All computers are just carefully organized sand. Everything is hard until someone makes it easy.
[Cueball sits back and pauses.]
[Cueball picks up and examines the laptop.]
Cueball: Maybe I should turn this one back into sand.
Offscreen: I'll find a blowtorch.

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Carefully organized sand eh? I believe this is a callback to this comic( and the silicone of course but...). 14:33, 31 March 2014 (UTC)

I Don't think this is a call back -- just a common reference to that computer chips are based on Silicon which have been arranged into electrical circuits Spongebog (talk)
Not a callback, not even a little bit. That comic did not reference the manufacturing process of computer chips at all, but instead use rocks as a sort of physical computer. The "carefully organized rocks" in that comic could have easily been carefully organized coconuts and the meaning of the comic would not have changed a bit. Also silicone is not the same as silicon. Silicone is a synthetic polymer made out of silicon and would be entirely unsuitable for building computer chips. Silicone = caulk, implants. Silicon = quartz, sand, computer chips. 16:04, 31 March 2014 (UTC)
That comic was also the first thing I thought of, but alas I do not think this comic is referencing that one, because in that comic he is organizing rocks, not sand. Sparx (talk) 03:46, 1 April 2014 (UTC)

Repeat after me: the CPU is not the computer. "The core of the CPU is mostly made out of sand" is less cringeworthy. As the "computer" itself, it's mostly made of plastic and metal. Even the CPU's plastic casing is a large part of it in volume. Ralfoide (talk) 14:21, 1 April 2014 (UTC)

When I buy a box of Ferrero Rocher Hazelnut chocolate, and I say, these made out of chocolate, would that statement be "cringeworthy" if I forgot to mention the hazelnut interior, or the tin foil that surrounds the chocolate, or the paper cup that goes around the tin foil, or the plastic container that it comes in? Even the cardboard setting in the box is a large part of it in volume. (Moral: when we describe something, we only really care about the active components that allow it to do whatever it is supposed to do, not the packaging it comes in.) 15:32, 1 April 2014 (UTC)
It's aluminium foil, not tin. It comes in a cardboard box here. 02:04, 1 July 2016 (UTC)

It has changed! The title is now "Lorenz" and each time you open a tab there seems to be a random choice between 3 different comics, two of them with clickable options Jesuspetry (talk) 14:41, 1 April 2014 (UTC)

And it seems the (multiple!) followups to each comic are being created by user suggestion! Jesuspetry (talk) 14:50, 1 April 2014 (UTC)

What Jesuspetry said! Checking just now, the title of the comic is "Lorenz" (a reference to Edward Norton Lorenz?) and the title text is "Every choice, no matter how small, begins a new story." Imperpay (talk) 14:53, 1 April 2014 (UTC)

Wait, no, we're looking at number 1350 on the main xkcd page, not 1349. Time for a new page here, forthwith! Imperpay (talk) 15:00, 1 April 2014 (UTC)
You're right. What has confused me is that 1349 flashes in the screen before 1350 is carried over by the browser Jesuspetry (talk) 15:26, 1 April 2014 (UTC)
Oh, and from my connection at work, I can't see the "real" 1350 at all. All I see is the image from 1349, with a new title and new title text. I'll have to wait until I get home. (I believe you'll see what I see if you use the old unix interface from a previous April 1, at uni.xkcd.com, and display 1350. Imperpay (talk) 16:41, 1 April 2014 (UTC)
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