2949: Network Configuration

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Network Configuration
If you repeatedly rerun the development of technological civilization, it turns out that for some reason the only constant is that there is always a networking utility called 'netcat', though it does a different thing in each one.
Title text: If you repeatedly rerun the development of technological civilization, it turns out that for some reason the only constant is that there is always a networking utility called 'netcat', though it does a different thing in each one.


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Created by a SYSADMIN IN SHEER TERROR - Please change this comment when editing this page. Do NOT delete this tag too soon.
If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.

In this comic, Cueball takes an uncommon networking bug - needing to establish a fresh connection for each packet sent - to the extreme. Instead of merely redoing the appropriate handshakes for data transfer, he is reconstructing the entire history of human civilization each time. As this originally took multiple millennia, doing it for every network packet would make communication extremely slow; in modern networking, we send and receive thousands of packets every second.

Randall may be using a double meaning of the word "rebuild." Instead of just rebuilding his network settings - starting fresh with a clean setup - he is rebuilding civilization itself from scratch, an extreme type of "first principles thinking."

In the last frame of the comic, Cueball looks shaggy and dirty and has a grub hoe behind him, making it clear he is performing these tasks in real life just to get his network working again. He says the network packet was stuck in the Neolithic era, the final period of the Stone Age that marked the transition from hunter-gatherer lifestyle to one of settlement. Apparently, Cueball had to go through the effort of inventing farming (one of the developments of the Neolithic Revolution) to keep communicating with Ponytail. He has also had to build himself a new wooden chair (and possibly desk), and hasn't yet got to the point of developing a notebook computer, so is using an under-desk tower PC connected to a chunky monitor. Presumably his previous equipment and furniture were lost in resetting to the Neolithic, though this seems to have been a localized effect, given that Ponytail appears unaffected.

"Inventing farming takes forever" references the actual rather complex process of inventing farming. First, we needed the last Ice Age to end - around 11,000 years ago - to create suitable climatic environments for agriculture. Then we required advancements in plant cultivation, animal domestication, and tool development - lots of time and experimentation involved there. And the transition from hunter-gatherer societies to sedentary farming communities also needed significant social and cultural adaptations (e.g., new organizational structures).

Randall Munroe is familiar with the popular creative nonfiction topic of what it takes to rebuild civilization, the subject of a book he blurbed on its cover, How to Invent Everything, by Ryan North, fellow cartoonist.

The title text discusses netcat, a simple utility to make a TCP connection which comes in annoyingly incompatible nc.traditional and nc.openbsd varieties.

In addition, the tendency for civilizations to independently develop netcat may be an allusion to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, in which 85% of all planets invariably develop a cocktail whose name is, by pure coincidence, a phonetic homophone to “gin and tonic”, such as the Jynnan tonnyx, while varying wildly in composition. The word "netcat" is a composite of "net" (most likely standing for network each time, although could relate to some form of mesh/trap, a topology or an amount less any deductions), while "cat" may be an abbreviation (for example for catalogue, category, catalyst, catastrophe etc.), or even actually referring to a cat. The various possible combinations could encompass a wide variation in function of similarly named processes.


Ambox notice.png This transcript is incomplete. Please help editing it! Thanks.
[Ponytail is sitting on an office chair at her computer with a headset on. A zigzag line indicates what is shown on the computer screen]
Ponytail (typing): Ugh, your connection is so laggy.
Computer: Yeah, sorry.
[Cueball is sitting on an office chair at his laptop]
Cueball (typing): It's because I messed up my network configuration and now I have to rebuild a separate civilization from scratch for each packet.
[Ponytail at her computer]
Ponytail (typing): Huh?
Ponytail (typing): What are you talking about?
Ponytail (typing): ...Hello?
[Beat panel, with Ponytail sitting in front of her computer waiting for a response from Cueball]
[Cueball, with dirt on his head and around him, is at an old computer setup with a hoe leaning on his now non-office chair, blade on the floor]
Cueball (typing): Sorry, got stuck in the Neolithic that time.
Cueball (typing): Inventing farming takes forever.

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I'm not currently on a device that is easy to edit with, but this definitely belongs in the Cueball Computer Problems category. RegularSizedGuy (talk) 05:38, 22 June 2024 (UTC)

Seems to be too much abstraction and virtualization in the OSI layers? OTOH the new civilizations are adapted to their packet. Probably made it easier to formulate the routing rules from what it should do, instead of how it should do it. Sebastian -- 08:13, 22 June 2024 (UTC)

...cursed. All of it. P?sych??otic?pot??at???o (talk) 08:27, 22 June 2024 (UTC)

The "always a netcat, but different function in each universe" seems very reminiscent of the gag in Hitch-hiker's Guide where every species has its own drink called something similar to "gin and tonic". 09:36, 22 June 2024 (UTC)

Good catch. I'm not sure if it's a direct reference, but it's definitely in the same vein. 13:26, 22 June 2024 (UTC)
Though later (and therefore possibly an inspired trope), "Swedish Meatballs" (in its Earth form, at least) is apparently just as widespread in the Babylon 5 universe. 14:18, 22 June 2024 (UTC)
Please finish your parenthetical statements 15:33, 22 June 2024 (UTC))
Finished. Changed minds about commas and parens, before posting, but didn't properly bracket things. This way isn't the way I intended, but more undrstandable 'in and out' of subclauses than sticking with commas alone. (And without rewriting it all, which would, of course be better!) 21:12, 22 June 2024 (UTC)

Notably, most civilizations also develop something called VIM, but it's usually an STD. ProphetZarquon (talk) 16:38, 22 June 2024 (UTC)

Finally a reset button that really does what it says on the label! Now please excuse me while I'm off mammoth hunting. PaulEberhardt (talk) 18:03, 22 June 2024 (UTC)

I am pretty sure the joke is that "reinventing all of civilisation" is an exaggeration of the perhaps manual nature of creating packets that Cueball has to do, no? The current explanation seems to take it too literally. (talk) 04:13, 25 June 2024 (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

He has literally had to rebuild his chair, and do some sort of farming, so no, I don't think it's an exaggeration. Plus, it's Cueball. 08:25, 25 June 2024 (UTC)
(Snap. Edit-conflicted answer!) The comic does at the very least depict Cueball having taken time off to do some rudimentary gardening, though... Randall often does depict a (surprising) literal truth behind what we might normally assume, from the language used, is more akin to metaphor. So par for the course. 08:29, 25 June 2024 (UTC)

Interesting choice, skipping CRT and going straight to LCD... or maybe Plasma? Brettpeirce (talk) 16:18, 2 July 2024 (UTC)