686: Admin Mourning

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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Admin Mourning
And every day it gets harder to fight the urge to su to the user and freak people out.
Title text: And every day it gets harder to fight the urge to su to the user and freak people out.

Explanation

The background images show output from the the ps command of Unix-like computer systems, which lists the programmes a user is running. If a user does not log out, their processes would continue to run until stopped by a reboot. If a user were to die while logged in, their still running programs would appear in the ps output and be a reminder of them to other users. This comic depicts an administrator unwilling to reboot a machine that has still running processes from a deceased user named "sam".

The final joke refers to the command line interface being called a shell, and to a particular type of shell called zshell (/bin/zsh in the final panel), making a pun with the expression "Ghost in the Shell", which is the title of a popular manga series, originally derived from the expression "ghost in the machine", used by philosopher Gilbert Ryle to describe Descartes' theory of mind-body dualism.

"su to the user" refers to use the ability of an administrator —i.e. root user— to switch to another user account (using the su command) without needing the target user's password, as would normally be necessary, which in this case would give the impression that sam's ghost were using the account.

Transcript

[The text is over a white-on-black terminal showing a bit of output from ps -el, with processes running from root and sam.]
When a user dies, their connections time out,
but their screen sessions linger.
[The end of the command line is a |grep sam.]
The server's uptime grows
because you can't bring yourself to reboot
and wipe out
their last earthly presence
[The processes listed are screen, zsh, irssi, and grep sam.]
the ghost in zshell.
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Discussion

This reminds me of the philosophical thought that "...a person dies three times. The day he dies. The day the last person who knew him dies. The day his name is spoken for the last time." Makes you think, eh? 31.111.35.144 20:15, 15 May 2013 (UTC)

By "their screen sessions linger," does it mean litteral GNU Screen sessions? Ad1217 (talk) 04:00, 29 January 2014 (UTC)

Yes. SCREEN is in the greped output of ps in the comic 108.162.219.37 17:16, 31 January 2014 (UTC)

irssi (Internet Relay Chat client software) process running in SCREEN session possibly means that Sam is logged on to the IRC and appears as a live person on some talk channels. 141.101.97.202 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)


I'm not sure "old fashioned" is a correct description here. Modern Unix systems do this, too. 108.162.238.114 00:02, 8 August 2014 (UTC)


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