Title text: 'So we just have a steady flow of metal piling up in our server room? Isn't that a problem?' 'Yeah, you should bring that up at our next bismuth meeting.'
This is another one of Beret Guy's mysterious businesses, in which he shows new employee Ponytail around the building in which the company resides. The process of showing a new employee around the business and starting to get them introduced to people and systems and procedures is often referred to as "onboarding" - hence the title of the comic.
The first panel starts out as a typical welcoming of the new employee to a small indie business. Very quickly, however, Beret Guy's explanation jumps to an existential viewpoint. Very rarely do conversations or introductions involve discussing the eventual fate of our bodies, and certainly not in a professional light as in this comic. Beret Guy, however, has no problem with discussing death and decay as just part of his business. This seemingly contradicts the title text in 1493: Meeting, where it is claimed that employees of the company can not physically die. However, this could be a new company he has started since then. Alternatively, this is a literal statement, perhaps related to the cursed Wi-Fi mentioned later in the comic.
In the second panel, Beret Guy shows Ponytail the free bikeshare system this business apparently has in place. Bikesharing is a system in which many users share one or more bikes among themselves. Typically the bikes belong to some of the members of the group who are allowing them to be used by other members who may not have one, but Beret Guy calmly remarks that this system will only exist "until whoever owns those bikes finds out", implying that they were not donated or shared by any member of the group, but are being used without permission or the knowledge of the true owner of the bikes. This is, thus, not actually a bikeshare, and would be more properly described as theft.
In the third panel, Beret Guy shows Ponytail that the laserjet is over there and the printer is over there, thus indicating that the laserjet is not a printer. This is a bit disconcerting, since the HP LaserJet is in fact a common brand of laser printer, suggesting that his laserjet may be some rather more exotic device, such as a laser-propelled jet aircraft. In any case, however, the printer is not available, as it's been printing an infinite-scroll web page since 2013.
An infinite-scrolling web page is a web page that, as the name implies, seems to have no end. This style of webpage typically has no definite pages or sections, but instead continues to feed data to the screen as the user scrolls. One such example is endless.horse, a webpage that features an infinitely tall horse. In reality, trying to print one of these would only print the current section the user was viewing, and even if it was somehow able to infinitely print, the operator could theoretically cancel the operation at any time. Presumably, this continuous printing serves some useful purpose, e.g. prints latest news, because someone would have to be refilling the paper for the printer to have kept running this long; it would have run out of paper long ago otherwise. Mistaken print jobs are sometimes notoriously difficult to stop due to many levels of buffering (application, printer driver, OS spooler, print server, printer device) and lapses in job control software.
Infinite scrolling (in the sense of an annoying UI design style for browsing large but finite documents) was previously covered in 1309: Infinite Scrolling. A similar separation of the phrase "laserjet printer" has been explored in 1681: Laser Products.
In the fourth panel, Beret Guy makes three more remarks.
Restrooms are all-digital—no pipes. While many technology standards nowadays are entirely digital, one's restroom is one of the things that most definitely should not be. A restroom without pipes would have no way to bring water in and transfer wastes away, and would most certainly be at the very least an unpleasant encounter. (It's implied that the waste is being transferred digitally, although this is obviously impossible.) This could also be a pun joking with the fact that a common (in the past and reappearing recently) technology in sound amplifiers is the use of tubes, but nowadays most sound amplifiers are all-digital. So a "latest technology" restroom cannot have pipes (synonym of tubes) and has to be all-digital.
The Wi-Fi is very fast, but cursed. Fast Wi-Fi is certainly desirable, but in this case, he claims it is also cursed. Whether the curse is a side-effect of the fast Wi-Fi or totally unrelated is left unsaid, as well as what the curse is. This could possibly be a joke relating to American slang: all technology can behave inexplicably from time to time, and Wi-Fi is notorious for randomly losing connection -- this is often exaggerated and called "cursed". Knowing Beret Guy, though, it's probably literal, perhaps purchased from one of the "mysterious shops that sell you magical items, and then it turns out they're cursed".
Our server room is carbon-neutral but produces bismuth constantly. Normally, carbon-neutral would mean that it is designed to be environmentally friendly by reducing and offsetting its carbon emissions enough that it has no net effect on the environment. The term is a little bit confusing because the meaning is of course carbon-dioxide-neutral. But while carbon is not a common material used in servers, bismuth is used as lead replacement in some solders. While this replacement is often used because of the toxicity of lead, in this case it refers to an IBM mainframe computer where the Bi58Sn42 alloy is used because of its low temperature soldering characteristics. So producing bismuth would destroy all the electric connections in the server. An alternative explanation is a compact nuclear reactor in the server room which can both make the server room carbon-neutral and leak bismuth (by creating it in the reactor). This being Beret Guy, yet another possibility is that bismuth simply appears in that room as the server operates, because he didn't want it to create carbon emissions and so it had to emit something else.
In the last two panels, Beret Guy explains that Ponytail will be working on the infrastructure, which is apparently maintained by Lin-Manuel Miranda. He is among other things a songwriter but certainly not an engineer or anyone qualified to be responsible for an entire infrastructure. Ponytail knows about his songs and thus surprised asks if he is also an engineer. (This echoes 1665: City Talk Pages, which includes a train station designed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, a composer best known for writing The Phantom of the Opera).
It is worth noting that Beret Guy actually acknowledges the mistake here, claiming the mistake "cost a fortune." This is unusual for Beret Guy, as he has of yet failed to acknowledge or recognize the oddity of every other aspect of his mysterious business, many of which are certainly stranger than this. However, he doesn't seem to mind this at all and does not wish to fire him. Instead he plans on fixing the mistake by hiring a real network engineer, Ponytail, to do the work alongside Miranda. Because, as Beret Guy continues to explain, the bright side of having Lin-Manuel Miranda in his business overshadows the lost fortune. Apparently Lin-Manuel Miranda is really nice and he makes karaoke nights fun, a clear reference to his engaging stage presence and vocal skills.
Off screen, Lin-Manuel Miranda is heard singing "How Far I'll Go", which is a song that he composed for the Disney movie Moana. It was nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Song in the 2017 show just a few weeks prior to this comic.
The title text mentions the potential dangers of having your server room constantly produce bismuth, but only as a prelude to a bismuth/business pun. Because of the earlier carbon reference, it could also be a parallel to the difficulty in convincing businesses to become more energy efficient and reduce greenhouse gas emissions despite the urgency, as Randall has often referred to in xkcd with 1732: Earth Temperature Timeline.
- [Beret Guy shakes hands with Ponytail in front of a building while he points at the two large double doors under an unreadable sign.]
- Beret Guy: Hi! Welcome to the team!
- Beret Guy: We do business here and we'll turn into dirt later.
- [Beret Guy and Ponytail walk by three bikes.]
- Beret Guy: This is our main campus.
- Beret Guy: We have a free bikeshare system, at least until whoever owns those bikes finds out.
- [Beret Guy points forward as they walk on.]
- Beret Guy: The LaserJet is over there, and the printer is over there.
- Beret Guy: You can't use it right now; it's been printing an infinite-scroll webpage since 2013.
- [Zoom in on their heads.]
- Beret Guy: Restrooms are all-digital - no pipes.
- Beret Guy: The WiFi is very fast, but cursed.
- Beret Guy: Our server room is carbon-neutral but produces bismuth constantly.
- [Beret Guy has turned towards an off-panel Ponytail holding a hand out towards her.]
- Beret Guy: You'll be working on our infrastructure, which is currently maintained by Lin-Manuel Miranda.
- [Zoom out to both facing each other. From the right singing is heard from off-panel, as indicated with two musical notes.]
- Ponytail: ...The songwriter? Is he also an engineer?
- Beret Guy: Nope, huge misunderstanding on our part. Cost a fortune. But he's really nice and it makes karaoke nights fun.
- Lin-Manuel Miranda (off-panel): How far I'll gooo
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