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 common code is 403 (forbidden).
The guy at the computer gets the error "-41", but cannot tell even what program it comes from. So, the other guy 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 panel with the image of the lake is fairly rare as far as xkcd comics go, in that it is approaching a photorealistic picture.
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.
- [A guy sits at a computer, while a friend takes a book off a shelf behind him.]
- Computer guy: "Error -41"? That's helpful. It doesn't even say which program it's from!
- Friend: -41? I'll look it up...
- [In a frame-less panel, 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.]
- [The two are still sitting.]
- Computer guy: I don't know where you got that book, but I like it.
- Friend: Hasn't been wrong yet.
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.
A book suggesting a more or less unrelated solution which is accepted anyway is also pulled from a shelf in 330.
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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
- Long, long, short, long would mean it's approaching a crossing. 188.8.131.52 09:46, 7 September 2015 (UTC)
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...) 184.108.40.206 22:04, 2 April 2013 (UTC)
- Well then, laptop computers dont beep at all, I guess that must mean that something is always missing --220.127.116.11 03:03, 26 November 2013 (UTC)
- Yes. You are missing a Desktop. 18.104.22.168 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' 22.214.171.124 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. 126.96.36.199 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. 188.8.131.52 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? 184.108.40.206 05:48, 15 July 2014 (UTC)
- Those are lily pad flowers. Before they bloom they look like small balls, and some are yellow. 220.127.116.11 (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? 18.104.22.168 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)
Did... did anyone ever make this book? Somebody should get on that.--22.214.171.124 21:34, 20 November 2014 (UTC)
The guy has a lot of these books. http://xkcd.com/330/ 126.96.36.199 00:49, 29 December 2014 (UTC)
What do they say about code 34? I used Google News BEFORE it was clickbait (talk) 23:29, 21 January 2015 (UTC)
Let's see... I think that means "you get a free sample of brain bleach". 188.8.131.52 19:02, 3 April 2015 (UTC)
404 is a response code, not an error code 184.108.40.206 14:31, 5 September 2019 (UTC)
- Yes, HTTP 404 is an HTTP response code, but one that specifically represents an error condition...so HTTP 404 is indeed an error code (as opposed to, say, a success code). — Yfmcpxpj (talk) 19:30, 13 September 2020 (UTC)