664: Academia vs. Business

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Academia vs. Business
Some engineer out there has solved P=NP and it's locked up in an electric eggbeater calibration routine. For every 0x5f375a86 we learn about, there are thousands we never see.
Title text: Some engineer out there has solved P=NP and it's locked up in an electric eggbeater calibration routine. For every 0x5f375a86 we learn about, there are thousands we never see.


Cueball has solved some tricky and very important problem in computer science.

The comic splits into two timelines. Showing the brilliant computer code he'd written to somebody who actually knows computer code allows the academic to see the programmer's true brilliance and get him much-earned plaudits from the academic community.

In the alternate timeline - implied to be what actually happens - the boss, not possessing that knowledge, simply sees the results and not the means Cueball used to attain them. He then gives Cueball another assignment. This, sadly, is truth in television, as the private sector seems to only care about your results, not how you came about them.

The references in the title text are to the P versus NP problem, a famous unsolved problem in computer science, and the "magical constant" (0x5f375a86) used in finding the fast inverse square root, i.e. y=x−½.


[Cueball sits at a desk in front of a computer. There are cans on the desk and more crushed ones on the floor.]
Cueball: I just wrote the most beautiful code of my life.
Cueball: They casually handed me an impossible problem. In 48 hours and 200 lines, I solved it.
[Lines divide the comic into two possible end panels here, labeled "Academia" and "Business."]
Professor: My god... this will mean a half-dozen papers, a thesis or two, and a paragraph in every textbook on queuing theory!
Boss: You got the program to stop jamming up? Great. While you're fixing stuff, can you get Outlook to sync with our new phones?

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I'm not convinced the problem solved in the comic panels is the fast inverse square root in the title text, as the academia panel implies that it impacts queuing theory, and I'm not sure what fast inv sqrt has to do with queuing theory. -- (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Agreed. Fast inv sqrt is clearly referenced in the title text, but the problem in the comic is something else. Alpha (talk) 01:18, 2 March 2013 (UTC)
I think the example of fast inverse square is more about the bizarrely elegant simplicity of the solution, rather than something related to the solved problem in the comic. (If the above comments are about text that has since been changed, my apologies.)Tryc (talk) 20:57, 3 July 2013 (UTC)
Actually 0x5f3759df is the mnagic number used in the fast inverse square root. Ref Wikipedia edokan 15:54, 23.08.2013 GMT+2

If this ever happened to me, I would quietly release the solution under the GNU license. My getting fired (possibly) is totally worth the public technological progress highly into the future. Greyson (talk) 13:29, 14 March 2013 (UTC)

The explanation is an interesting contrast to my interpretation. The meaning I got was that in academia, this discovery, like any new discovery, is interesting; but in business, this discovery has little practical application (apart from finishing what he was doing) so his boss didn't think twice about it. Maybe I'm too cynical.-- 01:23, 13 May 2013 (UTC)

Seeing the presence of cans... possibly alcoholic. Might it be possible that the Ballmer Peak was successfully invoked to reach his solution? 15:46, 1 December 2016 (UTC)

Derailing the topic entirely, the old woman in the "Academia" panel seems to be a somewhat recurring character, complete with a semi-consistent personality. I propose "Bunhead" for future references. Anonymous17:39, 4 December 2013 (UTC)

I counter-propose 'MsBun'. 00:49, 7 January 2014 (UTC)

Oh, my goodness, "TruthInTelevision"? This isn't TvTropes! 20:53, 19 January 2014 (UTC)

Can anyone remember an episode of Click (or any BBC computer programme) ever giving such in depth explanation of the graphics problem? I recall one showing the difference in game presentations then and "now" from around about the time the article claims information hit the mainstream but it was no more than 'advertising without naming names' a la Beeb.Weatherlawyer (talk) 07:59, 4 January 2015 (UTC)

There was a recent paper claiming to have solved P!=NP

I believe that the title text refers to a famous quote by Stephen Jay Gould: “I am, somehow, less interested in the weight and convolutions of Einstein’s brain than in the near certainty that people of equal talent have lived and died in cotton fields and sweatshops.” — it's not a 100% match but I think that was what he was going for. It certainly fits the concept that capitalism and business eat up the intellect of great people and leave nothing to show for it, in contract to the purity of science/academia. I will edit in a comment to that effect. AmbroseChapel (talk) 01:28, 21 September 2017 (UTC)