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Networking Problems
LOOK, THE LATENCY FALLS EVERY TIME YOU CLAP YOUR HANDS AND SAY YOU BELIEVE
Title text: LOOK, THE LATENCY FALLS EVERY TIME YOU CLAP YOUR HANDS AND SAY YOU BELIEVE

Explanation

Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Created by an ODD-NUMBERED PACKET CLAPPING ITS HANDS. Please mention here why this explanation isn't complete. Do NOT delete this tag too soon.

Computer problems are frequent and can be difficult to solve. Networking problems in particular can puzzle even seasoned people and sometimes seem to have arbitrary issues causing them. Packets are units of data transfer used in computer networking, and one measure of network performance is lag, the amount of time it takes for data to travel from one point to another (and perhaps back); saying a packet's transmission is 'laggy' means it is unacceptably slow.

Lag in packet transmission and other network performance measures can appear quite random. Just to start with, your ISP may be engaged in traffic shaping, which can do very weird things indeed to your packets (making the first megabyte of a transfer faster than any other, for example); now imagine that your ISP's ISP (usually known as an "Upstream Provider") is engaged in something similar, and you begin to see the scale of the problem. Wireless latency can relate to things as unexpected as where people are standing, what they are touching, and what the weather is. Viruses and other system compromises, as well as legitimate features provided by hardware[citation needed], may hide their network activity, radically confusing things. Because humans are wired to perceive patterns, they will find them even in random data, a fallacy that Cueball is (probably) suffering from here. He variously attributes the network behavior he sees to the packet number being even vs. odd, packet arrival time being before vs. after noon, and packet arrival day being today vs. yesterday (such a pattern would make sense if it were merely "every other packet" regardless of odd or evenness, but that still leaves the other "patterns" Cueball is seeing).

These non-existent patterns that Cueball is 'finding' are driving him mad, so much so that he says he believes in ghosts now. The statement of belief in ghosts may be a reference to the intermittent or fluctuating nature of the network issues being caused by mischievous spirits or malevolent poltergeists. Ghosts generally are not concerned with expressions of belief, but there are some religious traditions that include group clapping and chanting. Many works of fiction depict a future or alternate history where machines are worshiped as gods or spirits, such as the Adeptus Mechanicus of Warhammer 40,000. Some of this terminology can be found in present-day IT and other support personnel, including references to "daemons" and "black magic". Another possible reference Randall may be making is to the Ghost in the machine, a term describing AI. A third possibility is that Cueball's brain had stopped working (As Randall had suggested in his chart).

The title text continues Cueball's maniacal attempts at self-assurance, which may be him alluding to J.M. Barrie's play Peter Pan by saying that latency falls every time you "CLAP YOUR HANDS AND SAY YOU BELIEVE" or possibly 1800s mystic spiritualism that continues some today. In the play, Peter Pan says "If you believe in fairies, wave your handkerchiefs and clap your hands." A more mundane explanation of the network behavior Cueball is experiencing might be that it is random but he's seeing a pattern anyway, or that there is a loose connection or trace and the vibration of clapping and speaking in the vicinity of the equipment in question closes the connection.

Transcript

[A chart is shown with one horizontal line with 13 ticks (the first larger) and ending in an arrow. There are three labels along the line, at the start in the middle an towards the end before the arrow. Below are two clouds in gray with labels. The first cloud is long and it is getting thinner towards the right. It goes between the first and second label above the chart. The second blob is smaller and of equal thickness and it goes from the last label towards right. Above the chart is a heading and a subheading:]
Types of Computer Problems
By how much debugging them makes your brain stop working
[The three labels above and the two in the clouds:]
None
Some
A lot
Normal problems
Networking problems
[Below the chart, only in the right part of the comic is a comic drawing. Cueball is kneeling before a rack of servers. One of the server blades is extended and connected by a cable to a laptop sitting on a box, which Cueball is using. Behind Cueball, there is a wireless router sitting on a stool, which is connected by a cable to another wireless router sitting on the floor, which is connected to another laptop. From behind him to the right an off-panel voice emanates from a starburst at the edge of the panel.]
Cueball: Before noon, odd-numbered packets were laggy, but after noon, even-numbered ones are! It's the opposite of yesterday!
Off-panel voice: Are you sure you're okay?
Cueball: I'm fine and I believe in ghosts now!


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