Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Randall uses an Euler diagram (technically not a Venn diagram) to make fun of clueless computer users. The circles in the diagram don't overlap, meaning problems that people suspect are caused by viruses are never really caused by viruses, and problems that are actually caused by viruses are never suspected by people to be caused by a virus.
When computers don't function as expected, a common response from ordinary users is "Maybe it has a virus?". However, most of these situations can be explained by faulty hardware (freezing, blue screen, etc.) or software (crashes, errors, apparent lack of response to input, etc.), a general lack of maintenance (too slow to start up, too much clutter on screen, etc.), or user error. A virus can potentially cause those symptoms, but it's much more common for them either to cause immediate and massive damage (rendering the computer completely unusable, wipe the disk, display obvious propaganda, etc.), or to remain stealthy with no obvious symptoms (logging keystrokes, exfiltrating sensitive information, receiving commands in the background, etc.). Of course there is no clear separation and there is always some overlap between the two scenarios, so the diagram is not meant to be taken literally.
The title text refers to the technological singularity, a hypothetical point in the future when superintelligence emerges in computers, so that they can build new computers with ever increasing intelligence. It is seen as impossible to predict what would happen beyond this point; hence the term "singularity". 1084: Server Problem makes a joke on this.
"Defragging" is short for disk defragmentation, an easy, user-friendly action that PC users can undertake to supposedly make their computers run faster. It is therefore a common all-round recommendation to do this, regardless of the problem. Randall suggests the same clueless users would encounter the singularity and attempt defragging. It probably won't help much.
- [Euler diagram with two circles that don't intersect.]
- Green circle: Computer problems that make people say, "Maybe it has a virus?"
- Blue circle: Computer problems caused by viruses
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If nothing else, defragging the Singularity would keep it busy for a few hours. ~ Quackslikeaduck (talk) 13:40, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
I wonder if defragging the Singularity would actually erase/ruin it. Just imagine what would have happened to the first multi-cellular organism if someone had rearranged its molecules in what it considered to be a more "efficient" manner!--Joehammer79 (talk) 15:00, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
And for a minute I was asking myself what black holes had to do with it... --188.8.131.52 16:14, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
- Well, beyond borrowing the name from the black-hole concept, there's something else too. You could say defragging decreases entropy. Decreasing the entropy of a black-hole would lead to what? Not a black hole? Bear in mind that black holes are tricky from a physics POV, and to top that, entropy, in the context of gravitation is a tricky thing. Also, the entire concept of "efficiency" is governed by the second law. So... Damn. I've tied this into all sorts of knots. But I'm going to say, if you tried defragging the singularity, it would actually prevent it from acting (since any action increases entropy), and therefore, IS a viable method to slow down the AI takeover. 184.108.40.206 22:39, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
I've managed to put someone in the "Maybe it has a Virus" category. I added an implementation of "neko" to an application we where working on, and the little cat following the mouse just confused a user who had never seen it before. Divad27182 (talk) 19:15, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
It's actually an Euler diagram, not a Venn diagram. --220.127.116.11 21:04, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
- I looked it up and agree. I wonder if someone has told Randall. I know he would appreciate it (1053: Ten Thousand). I'm not sure whether or not to change the "a Euler diagram" to "an Euler diagram" though. --DanB (talk) 21:31, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
- It's no less a Venn Diagram than it is a Euler. --Shine (talk) 05:27, 2 March 2013 (UTC)
- Since Euler is pronounced "Oiler" the "an" is appropriate no matter what your thoughts are regarding it's conventions.Schmammel (talk) 03:05, 2 March 2013 (UTC)
- Also, one of the most fascinating things from the Euler Wiki article was this image on a Euler diagram of traingles. --DanB (talk) 21:41, 1 March 2013 (UTC)
- Actually, this IS a Venn Diagram, not an Euler diagram. In an Euler diagram, one thins is a subset of another, which in this case would suggest that either all suspected cases of computer viruses are a subset of actual computer viruses, or the reverse, which I really don't think Randall is trying to imply, or rather NOT imply by his joke. For one thing, the joke is that problems that are caused by computer viruses and problems that people suspect are caused by computer viruses should have some overlap, but don't. This does not fit with an Euler interpretation of the graph as that would say (if one of the circles was inside the other) that every time the problem is a computer virus, people always correctly identify them but also assume other non-computer virus problems are viruses - or the reverse - all problems are caused by a computer virus but only a few are identified as computer viruses. Secondly, and more importantly, in an Euler diagram one circle is always SMALLER than the other, where as in a Venn diagram they are always the SAME size. Oh, and last but not least, I'd be very surprised if Randall didn't know the difference between a Venn and an Euler diagram, since I'm sure he's had to use both many times.--7OO Tnega Terces (talk) 07:43, 3 March 2013 (UTC)
- I'm citing Wikipedia: "Euler diagrams consist of simple closed curves (usually circles) in the plane that depict sets. The sizes or shapes of the curves are not important: the significance of the diagram is in how they overlap." I didn't know about this before, but I learned it because of DanB's cunning. No one knows everything, not even Mr. Munroe, and I'm sure you can use both kinds of diagrams many times without knowing their definitions. Diagram. –St.nerol (talk) 18:07, 3 March 2013 (UTC)
- I was about to make a post about unnecessary amounts of pedantry, but after reading both wikipedia articles, I've decided that this is exactly the kind of "Learn something new every day" material that I really liked about the old explain xkcd blog, and I'm happy that its continuing. lcarsos_a (talk) 06:32, 2 March 2013 (UTC)
- I'm not so sure whether this really is a standard Venn diagram. According to quite some sources ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venn_diagram, section "Overview"; as well as these papers:  arXiv:1207.6452,  arXiv:math/0603068, have a look at p. 1 and pp. 1/2 respectively, also:  arXiv:cs/0512001, Wolfram MathWold agrees:  http://mathworld.wolfram.com/VennDiagram.html), a Venn diagram is "[...] a set of n [– in this case 2 – ...] closed curves [– circles –] that subdivide the plane into 2^n connected regions [...]." [3, p. 1]. So we would actually expect to see 4 regions – in a standard Venn diagram. Obviously here the intersection is supposed to be empty (yielding only three regions), making this effectively an Euler diagram, in which circles are allowed to be the same size -- why should they not (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Hamilton_1881_example.jpg). Additionally, Euler diagrams are not only used to illustrate "(for all x) if A, then B" or "all A are B", but also "no A are B" etc. You might also want to have a look at this blogpost concerning Euler vs. Venn: Venn Vs Euler: The Diagrams. As this comic is titled "Virus Venn Diagram" one expects to see a classical Venn diagram, one does, however, not get to see one, but rather an Euler diagram showing very drastically that there is no intersection of the set of problems that make one think there might be a virus causing it and the set of problems actually caused by a virus. That's my amount of unnecessary pedantry for today. 18.104.22.168 12:19, 3 March 2013 (UTC)
- Either way, "Virus Euler" doesn't alliterate --H (talk) 16:21, 3 March 2013 (UTC)
Haha, how often do I have this conversation with my parents! They: "I think we are being hacked." Me: "?!" They: "Yeah, this morning when I started my computer, X wasn't working and now Y is acting all weird." ... Yes, of course. --22.214.171.124 08:49, 2 March 2013 (UTC)
"Defragging" is [...] an easy, user-friendly action that PC users can undertake to supposedly make their computers run faster.
Defragging rearranges the blocks of a file system to avoid skipping while reading. It's actually just for some file systems (on Linux it's done automatically) and it does make reading faster if you're using a hard drive as storage. 126.96.36.199 07:45, 4 March 2013 (UTC)
- Please, go ahead and fix it! Since I don't know the stuff, the risk is that I would just screw it up more! –St.nerol (talk) 10:42, 4 March 2013 (UTC)
- actually, defragging is unkilling people in Quake ;-)
- (SCNR) 188.8.131.52 20:29, 5 March 2013 (UTC)
- Every filesystem is possible to defragment. Difference is that some filesystems need it more that others. Specifically, FAT-based filesystems needs it a lot, while filesystems like Linux's ext2, ext3 ... are allocating blocks in a way which supposedly lowers the need of defragmentation. Anyway, the main reason why Linux filesystems are not being defragmented is that there is no application for that. -- Hkmaly (talk) 11:32, 21 November 2013 (UTC)
- If the singularity originates on a Solid State drive, then defragging could actually harm it --Pudder (talk) 09:57, 13 October 2014 (UTC)
I'm slightly miffed by using venn-euler diagrams for things this simple that can be said with just regular English sentences. in this case I suppose it's okay to make an excuse at being visual just to have it be on the comic, but people that don't need to do it also do it and that's kind of too bad 184.108.40.206 01:26, 15 March 2015 (UTC)