2221: Emulation

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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I laugh at the software as if I'm 100% confident that it's 2019.
Title text: I laugh at the software as if I'm 100% confident that it's 2019.


Here Cueball is speaking with a fictitious example of artificially intelligent software similar to the type popularized in the 1980s when personal computers had just become mainstream. Although modern computing platforms might still be backwards-compatible with 8-bit era software, it is more likely that the old applications will need to be run within an emulator that can simulate the necessary hardware components required by the application.

In this case the "8-bit AI" is having a conversation with Cueball as it carries out tasks common to the era, specifically asking the user to insert a floppy disk into drive "A:" (A: traditionally being the first floppy drive on IBM-compatible PCs). At the time internal storage like a hard disk was an expensive luxury item and most applications were stored on removable media. An application that could not fit on a single floppy disk would be programmed to prompt the user to insert successive floppies which held the required data. However, the speed at which data could be loaded from such devices was very slow, requiring anywhere from ten seconds to ten minutes to load a level or an advanced dialog box. Sometimes the software would even incorporate feedback mechanisms like loading screens to let the user know the program was proceeding as intended and had not crashed.

When software operating under an emulator such as DOSBox makes a request to access disc storage, the emulator will often map the command to a file or file system on the enveloping computing environment which can now contain hundreds or thousands of gigabytes of storage. Depending on the configuration, this may require a user action to complete the virtual operation (Cueball's click). The speed of modern hardware allows the data to be transferred at speeds several orders of magnitude higher than what was possible in the past. The 8-bit AI notices this and makes a comment about the transfer speed. Software may indeed have sometimes been designed to track the accessible rate of data, to give a rough estimate of the total loading time (or know how long it may need to animate a "while you are waiting..." display) no matter what the speed of the hardware is. This becomes less important once splash-screens or "spinnng cursors" aren't (usually) expected to stay on screen for many minutes without any obvious signs of practical completion.

Here we begin to see the consequences of emulation upon the anthropomorphized software application. Because the emulator is constructing the application's entire reality, the 8-bit AI has no reason to believe it is anywhere other than a 1980s' computing platform for which it was designed. While the application does notice the abnormally fast load time, Cueball decides to not burst his anthropomorphized program's bubble and responds that the file loaded quickly because of a new floppy disk from Memorex, which was a well-known manufacturer of premium magnetic recording media in the 1980s. Memorex was also known for a famous series of commercials with the tagline, "Is it live? Or is it Memorex?"—tying into the comic's theme of unawareness that something is being digitally duplicated.

To compound the problem, computers of the era often lacked a real-time clock or would have an inability to process dates beyond 1999, and therefore the software application in this comic still believes that it is running at the time of its creation - the 1980s. To this end the program casually asks how President Reagan is doing, as Ronald Reagan was the President of the United States from 1981-1989 when early PCs were on the rise. He died in 2004, 15 years before the publication of the comic. This is why Cueball seems slightly uncomfortable with noncommittally telling the software Reagan is "fine."

In the title text, Cueball references the living in a simulation trope, mentioning that it is not fully clear that he is actually living in 2019. This has been a theme in science fiction such as The Matrix, which has been referenced several times in xkcd. That we are living in a simulation was also the subject of the comic 505: A Bunch of Rocks.


[Cueball sits in an office chair at a desk typing on a laptop computer. The computers response to his typing is shown emanating from a starburst on the screen with zigzag lines between different sentences.]
Laptop: Loading... please insert disk into drive A:
Cueball: *click* There you go.
Laptop: Thank you. Wow, this disk is incredibly fast!
Cueball: Yeah, uh, it's the new model from Memorex.
Laptop: Amazing. And how is President Reagan?
Cueball: He's... He's fine.
[Caption under the panel]
I feel weird using old software that doesn't know it's being emulated.

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This reminds me of Miii's "world.execute(me)" song. 05:06, 29 October 2019 (UTC)

Does everyone else also see adds in the middle of the explanation now? It is extremely annoying. :-( Ahh yes, they do, there is a section in the previous comics discussion. Take further grievances there --Kynde (talk) 10:40, 29 October 2019 (UTC)

My first time seeing it: Right under your comment, LOL! I closed it, wish I could explain that it's because this is a really inappropriate place for an ad. They used to appear unobtrusively on the side, as they should be. NiceGuy1 (talk) 04:56, 1 November 2019 (UTC)

I don't see any adds anywhere. ( I also don't see any ads in the middle ;^) 11:34, 29 October 2019 (UTC)

There's an ad (for me, on this device, just before I came in to edit ((now gone - post-posting edit)) ) directly between Kynde's contribution and's. Nothing in the wikicode, but I haven't looked at the HTML source yet to see what was inserted post-wikimarkup. But that wasn't what I came here to edit in.
I was going to say that I've just bought a brand new mouse because my old wired optical mouse is flickering and failing, and I decided not to bother attacking it with a soldering iron (or at least seeing if I should). But I was disappointed to find no direct PS/2 replacement in any store, so this is USB instead. Going to try to dig up an inline USB-to-PS/2 dongle, though, and see if that works with this one's USB pinout, 'cos it's a total waste to put it through my actual USB hubstacks which are overoccupied with anything but HIDs, and asnlong as it passes the clicks and mickeys through I'd prefer my hardware to read it through that otherwise wasted venerable old port. (And if I can find a serial-to-PS/2 dongle, first, I think I have an even older device I can try, in the few days it'll take to get to the workshop where I know I'll find a proper replacement or three to try out..) So, yeah, old hardware too, was my point, somewhere in tht ramble. 16:42, 29 October 2019 (UTC)
I note that this comment section ends with a wiki tag (i.e. inside two sets of curly brackets) that says the comic's name and "/Ads", I suspect that means "Ads are allowed here in this section". Probably ExplainXKCD trying to make more revenue. As for your thing, that's what I've always hated about USB mice and keyboards, especially when they first came out. There used to be a dedicated place to plug in the mouse and keyboard, without needlessly using up a far more versatile and useful USB (the U standing for Universal, after all), and it's not like either is really optional. Though my current motherboard has USBs in that location, so I guess I can treat them as dedicated, but it doesn't feel the same. NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:05, 1 November 2019 (UTC)
Ad blocker? :) NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:24, 1 November 2019 (UTC)

SNES9x is one of the main emulators of SNES hardware; since plenty of people running it are younger than an SNES would be, it seems appropriate to be the "created by". Thank you to people making emulators everywhere for helping prolong our shared childhood. (Also thanks to Vimms lair for unrelated reasons) -- (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Actually, today's computers can take not just multiple floppy disks, but multiple CD-ROMs into RAM. Which itself is faster than it used to be. Talk about "near-instantaneously load" ... -- Hkmaly (talk) 19:26, 29 October 2019 (UTC) 20:18, 29 October 2019 (UTC) also related with these news https://www.c4isrnet.com/air/2019/10/17/the-us-nuclear-forces-dr-strangelove-era-messaging-system-finally-got-rid-of-its-floppy-disks/

Is the date on this comic accurate? A Tuesday release?

Not officially (the archive says 2019-10-28), but it did come out awfully late. The bot created the page at 11:04 pm on the 28th, but I don't which timezone. UTC. --Ycthiognass (talk) 14:39, 30 October 2019 (UTC)
I fixed the release date in the comic header to reflect the actual Monday release instead of Tuesday. Ianrbibtitlht (talk) 14:53, 30 October 2019 (UTC)

I think the title text is just a feel-old joke and not a reference to science fiction or living in a simulation. 05:56, 26 November 2020 (UTC)

Did anyone notice that the explanation says "tying into the comic's theme of a lack of unawareness that something is being digitally duplicated.", which is a double negative, which means that it does know that something is being digitally copied? Sarah the Pie(yes, the food) (talk) 23:15, 30 March 2021 (UTC)

SCP-079 if the researchers just gave it more memory --Öbc (talk) 21:38, 20 October 2022 (UTC)


Note: This topic is contained in a separate Talk page and was transcluded into the talk pages of new comics. This is to maintain a single discussion on the ads which affect all of explain xkcd. Click the "[edit]" button above to add comments about ads. --NeatNit (talk) 22:20, 3 November 2019 (UTC)

explainxkcd ads.jpg
When looking at the article page, I'm seeing several Google ads splashed across the full width of the article space, breaking it up randomly and making it more difficult to read (it sometimes interrupts the Transcript, for example, and also randomly crops up in the already-hard-to-read Discussion box). It looks awful. Is anyone else seeing them? I understand that ads are needed to pay for Explain XKCD's server costs, but they're really detrimental to the article. Hawthorn (talk) 13:13, 28 October 2019 (UTC)
Yeah, I'm seeing them, too, and I agree. ExplainXKCD is one of the few pages on my AdBlock white list. Please don't make me reconsider my decision. Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 13:47, 28 October 2019 (UTC)
Thank you for creating the new section. Yes, not only am I seeing them invade the text, but invade the text three times with the same advert. Perhaps we need a new tag to make room for advertising 13:59, 28 October 2019 (UTC)
I've added a tall screenshot of this to the right. Just from the thumbnail it's easy to see how disruptive it is to the page. --NeatNit (talk) 21:06, 28 October 2019 (UTC)
Oh, yours have images? Mine don't - they're just big white blocks with some text in them (which I think is even more disruptive since they are harder to distinguish from body text). But still, yeah, absolutely not a fan of this at all. It makes the site feel incredibly tacky. Hawthorn (talk) 21:34, 28 October 2019 (UTC)
Yes I also see them with pictures and it is horrible. :-( Will try to see if making a Admin requests will help... --Kynde (talk) 10:34, 29 October 2019 (UTC)
I'm not seeing them in the explanation - Maybe they fixed that? - but like FOUR times in the comments, which seems excessive. It seems less obtrusive than as described here - and shown, thanks NeatNit - but it still seems disgusting. They should keep them unobtrusive, like they've always been on the side. NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:17, 1 November 2019 (UTC)
I find it interesting that this Ad topic block is appearing on multiple comics (I saw it on 2221, where I added my other comments, then 2222, now this is 2220, and I see the same comments, including mine). I also find it interesting that after I left each comment on 2221 - between the comic's comment section and this one, like 8 edits or so, I kept finding things to say or corrections to my comments - I refreshed the page to see my edit show up, and after a couple I stopped seeing ads. Either there's a daily quota or it remembered that I closed each ad? Maybe a combination? NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:51, 1 November 2019 (UTC)
The topic showing up in multiple comic discussing is my doing - because this topic affects all of explainxkcd, I want to make sure it's always visible in the latest comic. I used wiki transclusion to do this. The discussion is actually held in Talk:2220: Imagine Going Back in Time/Ads and is inserted (transcluded) in all the other talk pages. --NeatNit (talk) 12:50, 2 November 2019 (UTC)
Oh, then may I say Way to go! I completely concur, this is an ongoing topic. (Though the ads seem gone now, at least for me) NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:11, 8 November 2019 (UTC)
Since the ads seem gone now, it seems like this section can stop being added to every new comic (though in my opinion it should remain on the relevant comics that were published during this dark time, I think 2220 until like 2225 or so...) NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:35, 10 November 2019 (UTC)
I'm only seeing 1 ad, always (regardless of which comic's explanation I'm seeing) after the second paragraph, always with pictures. The existence of the ad doesn't annoy me as much as the fact that it'll sometimes load after I've already read past that point, pushing the text I am reading down. -- 16:47, 29 October 2019 (UTC)
Click the X and report the ads for reason "Ad covers content". Maybe they'll even do something about it! 16:54, 30 October 2019 (UTC)
The thing is, that looks more like a complaint against the particular ad. Even picking "covers content" I get a response "Okay, we'll try not to show this ad any more". My objection isn't to the particular ad, it's to the EXISTENCE and PLACEMENT of the ad. I don't care what's IN the ad, it shouldn't be there at all! I accept the evil necessity of ads, just don't shove them down my throat, encouraging more people to use the ad blockers the obnoxious sites always whine about. NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:17, 1 November 2019 (UTC)
NiceGuy1 is correct. The complaint button is against a single advert, not against the advert block placement. It's not unlike filling a complaint against a business renting a billboard because you have a problem with where the billboard is placed. The business renting the space has no control over where the billboard is. 04:35, 2 November 2019 (UTC)

I'm not seeing these ads right now, have they been removed entirely? --NeatNit (talk) 12:41, 2 November 2019 (UTC)

I don't see them anymore either. Only the one on the left below the navigation bar remains, which has always been there and doesn't bother me. Bischoff (talk) 07:42, 4 November 2019 (UTC)
Ok, never mind. After I posted this and went back to the page the ads are back as well. Bischoff (talk) 07:42, 4 November 2019 (UTC)
All I see are the letters "Ads". Seems my Firefox blocks it. -- 13:57, 5 November 2019 (UTC)

I do not see any additional adds, but some additional linebreaks in between the pages, which fit the places described by those, seeing adds. Using Chrome on a company computer... So I do not know what exactly the settings are, but generally it does not block adds. (I even see the lunarpages add on the left) --Lupo (talk) 12:26, 6 November 2019 (UTC)

Last Wednesday (6 to 7 days ago), according to the time stamps on my previous comments above, I was seeing 4 or 5 ads in a rather short comment section (which went away after a few refreshes after a few comments). Now I see none. Maybe whoever turned them on saw the negative reaction and turned them back off? Or maybe they only needed a quick cash injection and turned it off after they got what they needed, LOL! NiceGuy1 (talk) 05:07, 8 November 2019 (UTC)

They indeed seem to have vanished. Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 14:42, 8 November 2019 (UTC)

I'm going to stop adding this conversation to new comics for the time being, because it seems like the ads have gone. It's weird though; no admin has commented on this. If you still see ads, let me know! --NeatNit (talk) 05:37, 10 November 2019 (UTC)

I removed this from the talk page for all but the first comic after it was first posted (as on that page there where also discussion on adds) --Kynde (talk) 15:04, 12 November 2019 (UTC)
Seems like there are no admins active at the moment... --Kynde (talk) 15:04, 12 November 2019 (UTC)

I still have areas on parts of some pages (e.g. in the discussion part of 1109 from time to time, which are according to the inspect tool, frames for google adds. They either cover part of the text, so I cannot click/mark it (what I often do to find the line I am reading in easier, or just to have my hand busy), or they create big interuptions of the text. --Lupo (talk) 10:57, 14 November 2019 (UTC)

December return of the ads[edit]

xkcd ads dec12.png
The horizontal ads are back. Noticed some on 2227 and decided to report back to this thread that the issue has not fully ended. ChessCake (talk) 13:47, 4 December 2019 (UTC)
Yes, I got them too. Also in the past weeks I got containers/placeholders in some places, which, according to the inspecting tool, where also for adds. Since today or yesterday they are fillign with adds again. --Lupo (talk) 13:52, 4 December 2019 (UTC)
I'm seeing them too.
They're back.
Ahiijny (talk) 14:48, 4 December 2019 (UTC)
The top-level div for one of those ad elements has class google-auto-placed ap_container. Possibly related: https://techcrunch.com/2018/02/21/google-debuts-adsense-auto-ads-with-machine-learning-to-make-placement-and-monetization-choices/ https://wpadvancedads.com/adsense-in-random-positions-auto-ads/ https://stackoverflow.com/questions/51183831/prevent-adsense-auto-ad-from-showing-ad-in-specific-area Ahiijny (talk) 14:56, 4 December 2019 (UTC)
Yup, they're back... I've transcluded this page in the latest comic's discussion page, and I've added a new screenshot here (more disruptive than the one Ahiijny showed). I've also made a comment on User talk:Davidy22, hopefully he'll receive an email about that. This stinks. --NeatNit (talk) 23:35, 11 December 2019 (UTC)
Yes they are back with a vengeance. Sadly it seems neither Davidy or Dgbrt are active anymore or replies to any messages written on their pages. They are the two last admins that have been active here. But Davidy has not been for more than two years (2017) and it has been some times since Dgbrt was active (march 2019)... PS I'm not an admin, just very active ;-) --Kynde (talk) 14:35, 12 December 2019 (UTC)

As of today, I am seeing fullwidth ads, but only in the talk page space. Aside from the usual sidebar ads, the rest of the explanation page doesn't have any. --Aaron of Mpls (talk) 21:45, 17 January 2020 (UTC)

After being fixed again, it now appears that users are seeing the erroneously placed ads again. Not a very nice April Fool's joke... ProphetZarquon (talk) 14:20, 3 April 2020 (UTC)

I've just started to get some huge ads that basically take up my entire screen. Have we gotten any updates at all? Opalmagpie (talk) 02:59, 23 September 2020 (UTC)

I've got full-width ads in the discussion box, but nowhere else, which is interesting, and also FLIPPING ANNOYING! Darn it, those ads are taking up the discussion box and I hate it. (Note: Just really noticed the ads) Sarah the Pie(yes, the food) (talk) 23:20, 30 March 2021 (UTC)

I have spotted video advertisements on the website. I fear this issue is only getting worse with time now. If this isn't just me, we should probably start to insert this back into new comics' Talk pages. ChessCake (talk) 18:54, 13 April 2021 (UTC)

Notified Jeff, he checked the ad settings for the wiki, and the broken ads should finally be fixed! I went and checked a few pages, and I don't see the ads appearing in random positions anymore. Hopefully this concludes the issue. Herobrine (talk) 00:08, 13 May 2021 (UTC)