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''Welcome to the Explain XKCD wiki''
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We have collaboratively explained [[:Category:Comics|'''{{#expr:{{PAGESINCAT:Comics}}-9}}''' xkcd comics]],
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You can read a brief introduction about this wiki at [[explain xkcd]]. Feel free to sign up for an account and contribute to the wiki!  We need explanations for comics, characters, themes, memes and everything in between.  If it is referenced in an [[xkcd]] web comic, it should be here.
Please sign up for an account and contribute to the Explain XKCD wiki!  We need explanations for comics, characters, themes, memes and everything in between.  If it is referenced in an [http://www.xkcd.com XKCD] web comic, it should be in here.
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* [[List of all comics]] contains a complete table of all xkcd comics so far and the corresponding explanations. The red links ([[like this]]) are missing explanations. Feel free to help out by creating them! '''[[Help:How to add a new comic explanation|Here's how]]'''.
 
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2. Put the comic number, the date it was posted and a link to the comic above the photo.
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== Rules ==
 
== Rules ==
Don't be a jerk. There are a lot of comics that don't have set in stone explanations, feel free to put multiple interpretations in the wiki page for each comic.
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Don't be a jerk. There are a lot of comics that don't have set in stone explanations; feel free to put multiple interpretations in the wiki page for each comic.
  
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If you want to talk about a specific comic, use its discussion page.
  
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Please only submit material directly related to —and helping everyone better understand— xkcd... and of course ''only'' submit material that can legally be posted (and freely edited.)  Off-topic or other inappropriate content is subject to removal or modification at admin discretion, and users who repeatedly post such content will be blocked.
  
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Revision as of 21:16, 24 March 2013

Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki!

We have collaboratively explained Expression error: Unrecognised punctuation character ",". xkcd comics, and only Expression error: Unrecognised punctuation character ",". (Expression error: Unrecognised punctuation character ",".%) remain. Add yours while there's a chance!

Latest comic

Go to this comic explanation

Troubleshooting
"Oh, you're using their Chrome APP, not their Chrome EXTENSION. They're very similar but one handles window creation differently." is a thing I hope I can stop saying soon.
Title text: "Oh, you're using their Chrome APP, not their Chrome EXTENSION. They're very similar but one handles window creation differently." is a thing I hope I can stop saying soon.

Explanation

This comic revolves around the complexity and somewhat low quality of modern software. Many problems that users experience are not obvious or straightforward, and methods for correcting the root cause the problem requires on invoking unrelated actions that happen to cause a desired side-effect. Knowing the non-obvious cause, the desired side effect, and how to trigger the unrelated feature that causes it requires memorization of lots of "stupid computer knowledge" rather than general principles and logical investigation of the software.

One particular example of an illogical fix to a software problem is depicted in the comic. Here, Cueball is trying to help Hairy resolve the problem of a program that is not responding to any mouse clicks. Cueball (correctly?) surmises that this is not due to abnormal behavior of the software ("freezing"), but rather because either the user or the software itself has opened a modal dialog window outside of the main screen area, where it can not be seen. Modal dialog windows block access to the rest of the application, by seizing the sole focus of the user input. They are valid GUI tools and are used when the software needs user's input before it can proceed further. However, opening such window and placing it outside of the visible screen area ("off-screen") will make the window both inaccessible and invisible to the user, precluding them from closing it and re-gaining access to the software.

One non-obvious way to repair such problem is to switch the screen resolution; Switching the resolution in itself does not fix the problem, but the resolution switch also forces the operating system to redraw all windows on the desktop and, some operating systems will also validate the coordinates of all windows and adjust these coordinates so that the windows do not end up in off-screen area. In this scenario, it is used as a side-effect to fix the problem, because operating systems rarely provide other, more obvious ways to bring the off-screen windows back to the visible area.

By saying "Why is it even possible?", Hairy is quite correct in pointing out that the best way to address this problem at its root would be for the operating system developers to prevents the creation of windows off-screen, preventing a whole class of window management problems before they can occur. Such mechanisms could validate coordinates during window creation, thus making sure that the dialog window would always be accessible and visible.

In general, one can sort the possible solutions to the problem being discussed in the following order of preference, from best to worst:

  • (Best): Have OS programmers implement automatic coordinate adjustment during window creation
  • Have OS programmers provide easily accessible and visible control to invoke coordinate adjustment for all windows
  • Have OS programmers provide a shortcut to invoke coordinate adjustment for all windows
  • (Worst, depicted in comic): Have users rely on side-effect of properly implemented screen resolution change mechanism to fix the problem counter-intuitively.

The title text refers to the fact that two different and unrelated software packages can have confusingly similar names, even if the usage and features of those two packages can vary wildly, and knowing the implications of using one instead of the other is a case of "stupid computer knowledge". Knowing the difference between a Chrome app, a cell phone app-style application, delivered from the Chrome web store, designed to be run in the Chrome browser, and a Chrome extension, a browser extension installed into the Chrome browser, delivered from the Chrome web store, designed to modify the behavior of the browser itself, is a subtle distinction not immediately apparent to users who may just have the name of the software they are looking for.

In many cases, Randall (or Cueball, his avatar) loves to help people using his specific knowledge (see 208: Regular Expressions). But when the trick is "stupid", he would prefer the programmers to fix the problem definitively so he never has to rely on this trick anymore.

Transcript

[Hairy sitting at a desk with laptop, with Cueball standing behind him.]
Hairy: Wait, why can't I click anywhere?
Cueball: I don't... Ugh, It opened a dialog box offscreen.
Hairy: Why is that even possible?
Cueball: It really shouldn't be. But you can fix it by changing your screen resolution to trigger a window cleanup.
Hairy: Seriously?
Cueball: I know, I know...
[Caption below the frame:]
To be honest, I can't wait for the
day when all my stupid computer
knowledge becomes obsolete.

Is this out of date? Clicking here will fix that.

New here?

Last 7 days (Top 10)

Lots of people contribute to make this wiki a success. Many of the recent contributors, listed above, have just joined. You can do it too! Create your account here.

You can read a brief introduction about this wiki at explain xkcd. Feel free to sign up for an account and contribute to the wiki! We need explanations for comics, characters, themes, memes and everything in between. If it is referenced in an xkcd web comic, it should be here.

  • List of all comics contains a complete table of all xkcd comics so far and the corresponding explanations. The red links (like this) are missing explanations. Feel free to help out by creating them! Here's how.

Rules

Don't be a jerk. There are a lot of comics that don't have set in stone explanations; feel free to put multiple interpretations in the wiki page for each comic.

If you want to talk about a specific comic, use its discussion page.

Please only submit material directly related to —and helping everyone better understand— xkcd... and of course only submit material that can legally be posted (and freely edited.) Off-topic or other inappropriate content is subject to removal or modification at admin discretion, and users who repeatedly post such content will be blocked.

If you need assistance from an admin, feel free to leave a message on their personal discussion page. The list of admins is here.

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