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Revision as of 16:59, 20 November 2012

Welcome to the explain xkcd wiki! We already have 4 comic explanations!

(But there are still 1582 to go. Come and add yours!)

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Keyboard Problems
In the future, a group of resistance fighters send me back in time with instructions to find the Skynet prototype and try to upgrade it.
Title text: In the future, a group of resistance fighters send me back in time with instructions to find the Skynet prototype and try to upgrade it.


Ambox notice.png This explanation may be incomplete or incorrect: Needs some rewording and reorganizing

This comic is about how people diagnose and solve computer problems. Cueball and Megan are trying to solve a keyboard issue, but are somewhat incompetent at diagnosing the issue. Cueball in particular blames a broken keyboard on software or a keyboard virus.

In the comic, Cueball complains that some keys in his keyboard don't work. Generally speaking, this could be due either to a software problem (i.e. the keyboard driver not working properly, or some program ignoring keypresses) or to a hardware problem (the keyboard is physically damaged, typically because of dirt under the keys).

If the problem is in software, booting from a different operating system (e.g. an external recovery disk) should solve it, as the computer would not be using the faulty software. Conversely, if the problem is in hardware, changing the keyboard should solve the problem as the new keyboard is not physically damaged and has no dirt under the keys.

However, the problem stays there after booting from an external recovery disk (so it's not a software problem) and it has "followed Cueball since his last computer" (i.e. persists after changing to a new laptop with a new keyboard, so it's not a hardware problem). Cueball is reasonably puzzled.

Megan seems to be used to Cueball's computer behaving strangely, and she doesn't even attempt to explain or solve the problem. The only explanation she needs for the problem is that "it's Cueball's computer". The characters in this comic are probably the same as in 1084: Server Problem, 1316: Inexplicable, and possibly 349: Success.

Both Cueball and Megan are entirely clueless to the fact that the issue is likely a hardware issue with the keyboards, rather than a virus that spreads between computers. It's possible Cueball uses the computer in a dirty environment with food or dust clogging up all of his keyboards. Blaming such a broken-key problem on software or a virus is completely absurd.

The last panel is a reference to The Terminator, a 1984 movie often referenced in xkcd. In the movie, the artificial intelligence named Skynet initiates a nuclear war, destroying most of humanity, then it sends killing machines to finish the rest. These include flying drones - Megan suggests that if such robots come to Cueball's vicinity, they will (physically) crash since computers around Cueball can't seem to ever work properly, and so hiding in Cueball's house she should be safe from the robots.

The title text refers to main plot of the movie and its sequel Terminator 2: Judgment Day. As Skynet's army is losing the battle against the human Resistance movement, it finds a way to send a humanoid robot T-800 back in time to kill the mother of the Resistance's leader. The Resistance in turn sends a soldier back in time to protect her. In the sequel, the situation repeats with the more advanced T-1000 being the killer and a reprogrammed T-800 being the protector of the child (the future leader). Along the way, they manage to destroy the research lab where Skynet hardware is to be born in the future. The title text suggests an alternative mission into the past, sending Cueball back in time and using his power to cause Skynet to malfunction instead of destroying it physically (as Skynet was created later anyway, despite the destruction of the research lab).


[Cueball sits between two laptops. Megan stands behind him.]
Cueball: Keys on my keyboard keep failing, even when I boot from an external recovery disk.
Megan: Sounds like it's hardware, then.
[Cueball moves over to the laptop behind him.]
Cueball: Yeah... except the problem followed me from my last computer.
Megan: You have the most bizarre tech issues.
[Cueball picks up the keyboard from the rear computer and plugs it into the one in front of him.]
Cueball: It must be spreading via keyboards. This one won't work with any computer now.
Megan: When the robot apocalypse happens, I'm hiding out in your house. Any Skynet drones that come near will develop inexplicable firmware problems and crash.

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