1678: Recent Searches

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Revision as of 15:32, 9 May 2016 by (talk) (Explanation)
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Recent Searches
autoexec code posted by verified twitter users
Title text: autoexec code posted by verified twitter users


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Needs an explanation for the individual queries.
If you can address this issue, please edit the page! Thanks.

The comic refers to the practice of finding answers to computer problems using Google. It shows a list of search queries, each of which suggests the author is perversely misusuing or overextending some computer technology or technologies. The overall impression is of someone technically sophisticated enough to shoot themselves in the foot, and who does not learn any larger lessons despite doing so repeatedly. The title text is another possible entry in this list.

Search Explanation
Google translate syntax highlighting Syntax highlighting can be used when editing source code to make the code more readable and easier to understand. Google Translate is used to translate text from one spoken/written language to another. The joke here is that syntax highlighting doesn't make sense in the context of translating spoken/written languages.
Autodetect mixed bash zsh
CPU temperature sensor limits
Clock speed jumper sample rate
Clean reinstall keybinding
Cron job to update crontab
fsck Chrome extension
Recursive font
Regex matching valid ebnf EBNF refers to Extended Backus–Naur Form
Hardlinks turing complete
Opposite of safe mode
Predictive touchpad
Google docs from bootloader
Hardware acceleration red channel only


[Coloured and styled as the logo]
[Drop down box, implying recent searches]
Google translate syntax highlighting
Autodetect mixed bash zsh
CPU temperature sensor limits
Clock speed jumper sample rate
Clean reinstall keybinding
Cron job to update crontab
fsck Chrome extension
Recursive font
Regex matching valid ebnf
Hardlinks turing complete
Opposite of safe mode
Predictive touchpad
Google docs from bootloader
Hardware acceleration red channel only
[Bold, below page outline]
I have no idea why my computers are always broken

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You can convert jpg to Excel (http://www.think-maths.co.uk/spreadsheet), so converting gif to Excel is not really absurd... (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Or maybe Randall(?) has a screenshot of a spreadsheet (or more realistically, an over-the-shoulder video of someone's spreadsheet), and he wants to OCR it back into a spreadsheet. -- 19:19, 9 May 2016 (UTC)

Interestingly enough "CPU temperature sensor limits" might be a serious consideration for extreme overclockers, who use things like liquid nitrogen to cool their PC. SG 01 (talk) 15:45, 9 May 2016 (UTC)

Not really, the limit of the CPU temp sensors would only necessary if you are planing to get the cpu to really high temperatures. That is, if you are using liquid nitrogen to cool the cpu, you should never reach the limit of the sensors. 18:38, 9 May 2016 (UTC)
Hey, our IP addresses differ only in 8 bits! Does this mean we are in the same part of campus? -- 19:38, 9 May 2016 (UTC)
What... that one is not not my ip! And the guy that mentioned "OCR" up there also has a very similar ip to ours. Is some kind of proxy explainxkcd has? (btw, I wonder if I'll get the same ip on this comment. I haven't disconnected my router or anything) 21:58, 9 May 2016 (UTC)
It appears that explainxkcd.com is using Cloudflare, so all the wiki edits are probably logged as coming from Cloudflare's proxies. A WHOIS search confirms that the IPs to are part of Cloudflare's network -- 22:22, 9 May 2016 (UTC)
I had thought explainxkcd was anonymizing IP addresses to some carefully chosen ranges. Apparently that's just a helpful side effect. Does Cloudflare always assign the same proxy to a particular source address? .42 (talk) 23:34, 9 May 2016 (UTC)
There are collisions. Someone else has edited via the same proxy I use, so now there is another .42 (talk) 21:11, 18 May 2016 (UTC)
Note that it says "limits" in plural, i.e. both upper and lower. -- 19:28, 9 May 2016 (UTC)
There are several "upper limits" -- one for turn on the fan, then speedup the fan, then start making sounds to alarm the user and the final one for doing a hard-shutdown of the computer before it burn out -- so assuming that anybody want to disable the lower is a stretch 04:00, 11 May 2016 (UTC)

Safe mode

This is my first time trying to help out with an explanation, please let me know if I did something wrong ^_^; Undergroundmonorail (talk) 15:48, 9 May 2016 (UTC)

I like where you went with safe/dangerous. Of the "unsafe" synonyms I found my favorite is "menacing mode". Elvenivle (talk)
My first impression here though was that he's so often dropping to safe mode he forgot what's regular system like or how to get there – so he searches for reference how to get there. 20:29, 9 May 2016 (UTC)

Is it possible the first one is an attempt to misuse google translate to translate programming code (to another programming language or even between linguistic languages)? TheHYPO (talk) 15:59, 9 May 2016 (UTC)

GIF to XLS could be a reference to http://www.think-maths.co.uk/spreadsheet 16:16, 9 May 2016 (UTC)

Nice find. I was thinking like that + a macro to flip sheets. Elvenivle (talk)

Doesn't "recursive" mean that it repeats (recurs)? Cardboardmech (talk) 16:44, 9 May 2016 (UTC)

Sort of. In computing, it's a little more specific, though, referring to functions that call themselves as part of their normal running. This in turn has led to the idea of recursive definitions, that of course refer to the original word. Example: "recursion: see recursion."
I take issue with the explanation for another reason, though. True, regexes probably can't be used to check the validity of EBNFs. It's a little bit more complicated than that, though. If one has ever used a compiler-compiler like yacc (which, supposedly uses EBNF grammars or EBNF-like grammars), another tool in the Unix world comes to mind, awk. Awk is similar enough in design to a cc that it can do the job of one, and people have apparently made compilers in awk. And what does awk use for its pattern matching? Regexes. Exercise for the reader: Write an EBNF for EBNFs. :D. Tibfulv (talk) 17:49, 10 May 2016 (UTC)
If you allow recursive regexes, it *is* possible to match EBNF with a regex: http://forums.xkcd.com/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=115494&p=3974658#p3974278 19:38, 10 May 2016 (UTC)

Silly comment because: can't...stop...laughing. Elvenivle (talk)

Hey... what does this line refer to? "A complication in attempting to solve computer problems this way would be presented by Google's search term autocorrection, which for several years has replaced technical terms with unrelated language from recent popular culture." I can't see how it's relevant to the comic, is it implying that these arent actually the questions he searched for, they're one autocorrection away from what he was trying to find? 00:14, 10 May 2016 (UTC)

For example, Google suggests "fsck" should be "fleck" and automatically alters the results accordingly. "Fleck Chrome extension" is a reasonable search query (Fleck is a web annotation service) but "fleck" is implausible as a typo. .42 (talk) 00:28, 10 May 2016 (UTC)
That seems like a stretch to me... if that was the intention then there would be no joke. 00:03, 11 May 2016 (UTC)
autoexec joke

isn't this related to autoexec.bat? Blydro (talk) 16:00, 9 May 2016 (UTC)blydro

Or...autoexec.ncf (Netware), autoexec.nt (Windows), autoexec.cfg (Source/Valve/Counterstrike) and an adult reference at Urban Dictionary. Elvenivle (talk)

This isn't farfetched. In need of a server, I was recently considering using obfuscated strings in a public blog to temporarily control my own apps...and malware's been doing stuff like this for ages. Elvenivle (talk)

I don't think a reference to "autoexec.bat" makes sense in the context of the comic... it's just a word that sounds similar (not being cheeky) 00:03, 11 May 2016 (UTC)

I originally interpreted "clean reinstall keybinding" as meaning that his keybindings were so entirely screwed that he wanted to do a clean reinstall of the keybinding system, but the other interpretation is funnier. 16:24, 9 May 2016 (UTC)

I interpreted this to mean that he created a keybinding that automatically performs a clean reinstall of the OS


I've only ever seen "fsck" as a way of saying "fuck" that bypasses content filters, such as in global chat in games like World of Warcraft. 16:25, 9 May 2016 (UTC)

I'm pretty sure it's file system consistency check. It's a program for checking your Linux filesystem. I think the Joke is that he needs to check his filesystem for corruption so often that he needs the convenience of a chrome extension. I have not edited the page because I neither use chrome extensions nor have I ever run fsck. Can anyone back me up on this? 16:43, 9 May 2016 (UTC)

Yes, that's what fsck refers to here. I've run it many a time on my old Red Hat installation that somehow kept corrupting itself. --PsyMar (talk) 16:54, 9 May 2016 (UTC)

Can some wonderful person provide an explanation for this? "This is probably a search for an interface to the Unix filesystem checker fsck via third-party software added to Chrome. Repairing a filesystem this way would be inadvisable. [citation needed]" It jokingly says "citation needed", but ironically, some sort of citation (well, explanation) really is needed... it's not obvious at all why it would be inadvisable, or what the joke actually means. 00:21, 11 May 2016 (UTC)

I added the line "fsck is a program for checking your filesystem for corruption." based on the discussion immediately above, but an explanation for why a Chrome extension to execute this program is funny/weird would be helpful to people like me. The lines immediately after it (about Chromium etc.) seem unrelated to the joke, and only make it more confusing... if a Unix user could spell it out maybe... 00:28, 11 May 2016 (UTC)
As long as you are not trying to run the fsck on ROOT filesystem (or /home, or anything other currently mounted), it doesn't matter if it's chrome extension. But it's true that usually fsck is run as part of system boot, when no filesystem is mounted in read/write mode, and it is not possible to run Chrome in such situation. -- Hkmaly (talk) 03:57, 16 May 2016 (UTC)
[Extended explanation] Information about files often occur in multiple places on the disk. This redundancy increase the chance of repairing a corrupt file system. Fsck will read data from the disk, and if it finds inconsistencies, write new corrected data back. When a file system is mounted, a file system driver will read and write data of the disk in normal operation. If the two processes are simultaneous and unaware of each other, they may be confused and even create inconsistencies that wasn't there to begin with. E.g. Template:original research: A file system driver may have cached data in working memory. If fsck updates that data on disk, the cache will be out of sync. The file system driver may be confused by this, or, if it writes back the cache to the disk, the fsck fix will be undone, and possibly a new different inconsistency would be created. Or, while fsck is comparing different parts of the file system, it will read one block at one point in time and another block at another point in time. At a time in between, normal operation may have created, changed or removed a file. Fsck then may think it has found an inconsistency (that does not exists) and try to fix it, possibly creating an inconsistency. Therefor, the fsck command will detect if a file system is mounted and issue a really scary warning against proceeding. /David A 21:22, 24 September 2016 (UTC)
Predictable touchpad

A predictable touchpad would actually be a major blow to internet security -- mouse events are being used to seed randomness generators for cryptography. I don't think this piece of information is suited for the explanation, but just in case someone's interested: You're welcome! 16:26, 9 May 2016 (UTC)

Just came across this: Pre-Touch Sensing for Mobile Interaction https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fiZkEYLXctE 12:38, 10 May 2016 (UTC)

Title text

After the npm burndown, someone actually made it possible to require from twitter: (https://gist.github.com/rauchg/5b032c2c2166e4e36713) 18:25, 9 May 2016 (UTC)

Syntax highlighting a natlang

Syntax highlighting a natural language might color the subject, verb, object, adverbs, and prepositional phrases. --Tepples (talk) 18:27, 9 May 2016 (UTC)

Google Translate is not limited to natlangs (e.g. it has Esperanto). And I heard of some syntax highlighters for conlangs (namely Lojban). -- 19:13, 9 May 2016 (UTC)

"syntax highlighting Google translate" gives wildly different results from "Google translate syntax highlighting". The explainxkcd article has been climbing in the results; can it displace Wikipedia or CPAN for these queries? Might there be a hidden joke related to some query in the list? .42 (talk) 00:54, 10 May 2016 (UTC)

(Update: for both queries, we have displaced Wikipedia, StackOverflow, and CPAN in some Google servers.) .42 (talk) 02:49, 10 May 2016 (UTC)
The first result was Google's own documentation. No more! .42 (talk) 04:00, 10 May 2016 (UTC)

Is it really suitable to use the word leopard instead of keyboard? Even though it's linked to the relevant comic explanation it seems likely to add unnecessary confusion and doesn't really add to this explanation. 10:30, 10 May 2016 (UTC)

It seems cool to me as long as the explanation is clear enough that your brain expects "keyboard" even if you previously didn't know what "keybinding" meant. I added a sentence to try and make it more obvious. 00:08, 11 May 2016 (UTC)

Isn't the clean reinstall keybinding pointless for saving time since he'd have to redo it every time he did a clean reinstall? Figvh (talk) 11:34, 10 May 2016 (UTC)

I think you're assuming that keybinding is about setting up new shortcuts (which the explanation used to seem to be saying); I think the jokes actually about the keyboard being functional at all... 00:08, 11 May 2016 (UTC)

Idea for Turing-complete hardlinks: get an old UNIX that allows hardlinks to directories. With those, you can create loops in the filesystem (it's now an arbitrary directed graph, not a tree). Write an interpreter repeatedly calls link, chdir, mkdir, or rmdir based on some pattern matching on the existing names. It could terminate when it finds itself in an empty directory. Now you write programs on top of that interpreter by carefully setting up a tangle of directories and launching the interpreter at the right starting point. 00:13, 11 May 2016 (UTC)


maybe it's just me, but does google actually do this any more? it certainly used to. now all i get is nothing until i start typing, when i get a list of the most popular results for other people's searches. if you have to turn javascript (or something else) off to see this, maybe it should be mentioned. -- 12:36, 10 May 2016 (UTC)

still having problems with this. i think i understand the joke, but the comic seems to rely on something which i'm pretty sure doesn't happen. i'm old enough to remember when google would allow the default browser behaviour for textboxes, which is to cache the values you entered in this box and display them to you as a dropdown when you started typing. pressing alt-down would open the list unfiltered and unsorted. this is, i'm guessing, what randall is alluding to. which means that the list is hist search history in google. which makes the text of the joke funny. unfortunately google doesn't do this any more. i've tried it in chrome, firefox, ie and edge and it just doesn't, even if i'm logged in as me. alt-down has no effect. if you start typing it does open a dropdown to autocomplete, but from very scant research this isn't in any way tailored to the user. it just gives you the most popular searches that complete the text you type, with no regard for your search history. i could be wrong about that. if i am, and google does tailor it to your particular search history, then that does make the joke funny again. since not only does randall search for these things enough that google noticed that he likes them (possibly because this is all he searches for) but people search for these ridiculous things enough that google thinks that they are popular. which, even if true is a little remote a possibility. and undermines the joke about randall being special in breaking his computer. maybe i'm overthinking it. or not. did i miss something obvious? this is supposed to explain the comics and i need a little help. -- 12:57, 13 May 2016 (UTC)

I might be wrong, but I think the explanation for "Google docs from bootloader" is missing the point entirely - I believe this is not referring to the application from Google but instead means having the bootloader access Google document files (note that "docs" is lower case here) in order to somehow control or modify the bootloader behavior. These document files might be created and maintained through Google Docs (the application) and then accessed from within the bootloader later. While this may be technically infeasible and extremely unwise for a variety of reasons, if it could be done, it would fit the subject of this comic perfectly - the result would be the potential for severe bootup problems! --Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 17:02, 4 June 2017 (UTC)

I see now that the text within the comic is all upper case, but the thought is still valid. --Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 17:08, 4 June 2017 (UTC)