345: 1337: Part 5

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1337: Part 5
This digital music thing will probably reach its endgame sometime in the next decade or so. These are very exciting times.
Title text: This digital music thing will probably reach its endgame sometime in the next decade or so. These are very exciting times.


This is the fifth and last part of five in the "1337" series. The title 1337 is "L-eet," or "elite," using the Leet alphabet, a coding system used primarily on the internet (and on other early text messaging systems), meant to provide a bit of obfuscation to plain text both to make it harder to read (and potentially 'grep' for incriminating terms) and to show off in a creative way using in-group jargon. The comic is narrated by Cueball as seen in part 2 comic, but that Cueball is not shown here, but still he is part of this comic series, and thus also this comic, as he narrates the epilogue.

This series was released on five consecutive days (Monday to Friday) and not over the usual schedule of three comics a week. These are all the comics in 1337 series:

Richard Stallman is the ardent defender of freedom and believer in copyleft; he also founded the GNU Project. (He is not really a sword fighter but is always depicted with swords when featured in xkcd, which is in this series and in 225: Open Source). In the previous part, he came to the rescue of Mrs. Roberts and her Daughter Help I'm trapped in a driver's license factory Elaine Roberts. Stallman and Elaine quickly overpower the two enemies with black bowler hats who represent the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) and the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), use the Digital Millenium Copyright Act who had found out about the Roberts hacking.

Just when the two men have been defeated, Elaine asks how Stallman knew they where in trouble, and he tells it was his friend who told him about it. Climbing down a rope from the sky, the friend enters with a red cape and goggles. It turns out it is Cory Doctorow, a blogger, journalist, and science fiction author who serves as co-editor of the weblog Boing Boing. He is an activist in favor of liberalizing copyright laws and a proponent of the Creative Commons organization. He does not really travel around in a balloon or (usually) wear a red cape, but Randall introduced this idea in 239: Blagofaire and has continued it in later comics featuring Cory Doctorow. So he is climbing down from his balloon. He uses the balloon to construct the Blogosphere, which is a name used to refer to all blogs on the Internet, many of which frequently link to and refer to other blogs. Here, the Stallman character talks about it as though Cory Doctorow actually constructs it, as if it were a portion of the atmosphere 20 km up over the tag clouds.

Blogs often label posts with keywords, known as tags. A tag cloud is a way of displaying the tags on a site where the more common tags appear in larger type than less-common ones. It has no relationship to actual water vapor clouds in the sky, but in the comic, the Doctorow character suggests that tag clouds are actually in the air, below the new blogosphere. At this point we see that Mrs. Roberts is still programming while this fight and discussion take place. Her son Robert'); DROP TABLE Students;-- comes and tells her he is hungry, but she tells him that she does not have time when she is coding, and that he ate yesterday. It seems that he is still a kid, even though it must have been some years since the young Elaine left and grew up. However, she may still be a very young adult, in which case her little brother could still be shorter than his mom (we see in Part 2 that, from age 11, she studied with Donald Knuth for four years, making her 15 when she left. However, it is not clear how long she was away from home after that).

Stallman gives Elaine a proposal to join GNU as a coder. GNU is supposed to be the pinnacle of free software; an operating system with no restriction, allowing the user to modify and customize anything they want about the computer. Stallman likely wants Elaine for her coding abilities, similar devotion to free software, and use her reputation as a hacker and open-source pioneer to spread the word and further his project. This may also be a reference to the infamous "Free Software Song", sung by Stallman in which he exhorts hackers to "join us now and share the software." But she is not ready yet, as she wished to take down the industry of MPAA and RIAA as Music doesn't need these assholes. In the meantime, Cory Doctorow throws the bowler hat guys out and orders them never to "darken our comment threads again."

Stallman is against her idea of going for straight war with the industry and suggests that she help encourage sharing in the public mind. And then Doctorow chimes in with a suggestion that she has the ability to build better P2P systems, to which she asks if they mean straight up piracy. And this leads up to the punch line of the series, when Doctorow says she (i.e. "[Ms] Roberts"), would make a wonderful Dread Pirate! Peer-to-peer, often abbreviated P2P, is a network system where tasks are partitioned between participants with equal privileges, in contrast with the client-server model, where the client makes requests, and the server provides service. A common example of a peer-to-peer system is the BitTorrent file-sharing protocol, which is often (mis)used for distribution of pirated software and media.

The Dread Pirate Roberts is a fictional character from the book and movie The Princess Bride. Roberts is the most feared pirate on the seas. But, "Dread Pirate Roberts" is merely a title that has been passed down as previous "Roberts" have gained enough money (from piracy) to retire comfortably. Westley, one of the main characters from The Princess Bride, becomes the Dread Pirate after being taken prisoner by the preceding Pirate Roberts. It is anyone's guess whether the entire 5-comic story, starting from the choice of Mrs. Roberts' name, began as just a lead-up to this one joke. At the end of the movie, Inigo Montoya has won the vengeance he has sought all his life, and expresses to Westley that he doesn't know what to do next. Westley suggests Montoya succeed him as Roberts, saying, "Have you ever considered piracy? You'd make a wonderful Dread Pirate Roberts." Cory Doctorow's line in the comic therefore mimics that line from the movie.

Silk Road was an online illegal market designed to allow criminals to trade in drugs, guns, and other illegal items, run by a person also using the pseudonym Dread Pirate Roberts. However, this illegal market did not exist until four years after this comic was published. In the epilogue, several items of interest are revealed about the Roberts’ later lives. Elaine shared her ideas with Bram Cohen, who went on from that to found BitTorrent, a distributed method of downloading files. People can and do use BitTorrent both for lawful file downloads and also for sharing media files unlawfully. Its distributed nature, where someone does not download a file from just one other computer but rather in many pieces from many other computers with the same file, makes it more difficult for record and movie industry groups to police, and therefore a person with Elaine's motivations might be interested in helping design such a system.

Mrs. Roberts developed for Ubuntu, which is probably the most well-known distribution of GNU/Linux. A GNU/Linux distribution (often referred to simply as "Linux") is any operating system that is based on GNU software and the Linux kernel. She also went after any website (defacing them) that made Your mom jokes to her daughter (hence being about herself, for which she clearly feels justified to retaliatiate in her own particular way). To deface a website is like putting up graffiti or tearing down signs; she likely replaces the URL's content from the original site to another image, text box, or other message as revenge. This is a recurring theme on xkcd. Defacing websites is generally considered a low-level hacking activity, generally carried out by script kiddies using pre-packaged exploits rather than by highly skilled hackers like Elaine.

Finally, a bit more info is given on how Elaine continues her fight: she joins random communities, helps with code, and mysteriously moves on. Sometimes she streams her music live on an IP address, and if you happen to find one of these with a streaming audio player, you can hear her rock out (a reference to her music career mentioned at the end of the third part). The final phrase "Happy Hacking" often accompanies an autograph from Richard Stallman.

The title text is likely referring to the argument over Digital Rights Management, or DRM-locked content. These so-called "DRM wars" are concerned about how DRM restricts the freedoms of people who buy them legitimately, and how it restricts creativity and innovation on the Internet. A large part of the debate is digital music, or music you would buy and download on the Internet through sites like Amazon or iTunes. The title text states that the DRM wars will end in the next decade or so, and we are living through exciting times as we can see these wars unfold and eventually end. In 2009, iTunes did remove DRM from any music they sold, which was a huge milestone at the time. Due to the rise in music streaming services (all of which use DRM to keep clients from downloading their songs) in the mid- to late 2010s, this achievement has been made void again.


[The two men in black bowler hats (RIAA and MPAA agents as known from the previous comic) with their katanas are attacked by Elaine Roberts with her folding knife and Richard Stallman with his own two katanas. Elaine kicks the RIAA man to the left in the back of his leg, while Stallman jumps over the MPAA man to the right, flying high over him from right to left in a flying maneuver hitting his sword while hanging parallel to the ground above the man.]
Elaine: Thanks, Stallman!
Richard Stallman: 'Tis my pleasure.
[Elaine stands to the left with her knife in one hand having folded it down again. Richard Stallman stands between the two men with bowler hats who are now lying on the floor on either side of him, each with one of Stallman's swords pointing at their throat. Stallman has both arms fully stretched towards them as he looks straight out of the panel. The left (RIAA) man lies flat on his back, his hat and katana lying behind him. The right (MPAA) man is sitting on his knee leaning as far back as he can, since the sword is almost touching the skin on his throat. He wears his hat, but the sword lies behind him, out of reach, even though he is leaning back on one hand close to it. To the far right, a rope comes down from the top of the panel, falling down on the ground so a section of it stretches even farther right in the picture. Down this rope comes a man with googles and a red cape, which is black on the inside. This is Cory Doctorow. He holds onto the rope with two hands, one over one just under his head.]
Elaine: So, wait - how did you know we were in trouble?
Richard Stallman: My friend here was tracking these thugs from his balloon.
Richard Stallman: He called me and I thought I'd stop by.
Cory Doctorow: -Hi!
Cory Doctorow: Cory Doctorow - It's a pleasure to meet you.
[Elaine has shifted the knife to the other hand. Richard Stallman has moved to the left of the RIAA man, so both bowler hat men are between him and Cory Doctorow. Stallman still points his sword in their direction, but they are lowered. The RIAA man closest to him has picked up his hat in one hand and reaches for his sword with the other hand. The MPAA man now lies on his back, one arm up, leaning on the other. His sword is gone. It does not seem like Doctorow could have taken it. Behind him, Doctorow has reached the ground, the rope hanging behind him. He points left.]
Elaine: Balloon?
Richard Stallman: Aye. They're up there constructing something called a "Blogosphere."
Cory Doctorow: Yup! It's twenty kilometers up, just above the tag clouds.
[The scene is contracted, so to the left, Mrs. Roberts at her desk with her chair and laptop becomes visible (from the previous comic). This without the other people has moved closer. She still types as her son Little Bobby Tables enters and lifts a hand in his mother's direction. He is drawn as a child version of Cueball. Elaine has put the knife away and looks at Richard Stallman, who now stands straight looking at her with the swords crossed in front of his legs. Behind him, just right of the rope hanging down, Cory Doctorow lifts one of the agents up by the throat while looking right and talking to him. The other agent has left the panel. The one he holds has his hat but no sword.]
Little Bobby Tables: Mom, I'm hungry.
Mrs. Roberts: Hush, I'm coding. You ate yesterday.
Richard Stallman: You know, Roberts, GNU could use a good coder like you. Ever thought of joining us?
Elaine: Maybe someday. Right now I've got an industry to take down.
Elaine: Music doesn't need these assholes.
Cory Doctorow: Begone, And never darken our comment threads again!
[Zoom in on Elaine, Richard Stallman, and Cory Doctorow. She stand straight looking at Stallman, who faces towards her swords now on his back crossed. Doctorow is also facing her and holds out both arms towards her. The rope is now outside the panel, as are both bowler hat men.]
Richard Stallman: Well, you won't fix the industry with random exploits. You need to encourage sharing in the public mind.
Doctorow: Hey; With your music and coding backgrounds, you should get into building better P2P systems.
[The final panel is only a third of the length of the previous panel. The three are still in the panel, but they have moved and are also drawn somewhat smaller. Elaine still faces them right, but now Cory Doctorow is in front of Richard Stallman's swords as before. All have their arms down.]
Elaine: What? Straight-up piracy?
Cory Doctorow: Sure - have you ever considered it? You'd make a wonderful dread pirate, Roberts.
[To the right of the final panel is a two-column epilogue narrated by Cueball as seen in part 2. It is split into three paragraphs and a "signature." The caption above is centered over the two columns.]
Cueball (narrating): Elaine shared her ideas with Bram Cohen, who went on to develop BitTorrent.
Mrs. Roberts spends her time developing for Ubuntu, and defacing the websites of people who make "your mom" jokes to her daughter.
Elaine still stalks the net. She joins communities, contributes code or comments, and moves on. And if, late at night, you point a streaming audio player at the right IP at the right time - you can hear her rock out.
~Happy Hacking.~

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Does anyone know if such an IP address really exists, where you can point a streaming audio player at the right time to hear her "rock out"? Saibot84 (talk) 05:33, 9 April 2013 (UTC)

It's definitely possible to set up a server to work like that, but I don't know of one that's been set up. 20:02, 9 February 2017 (UTC) HitiadlfElaineR (talk) 08:36, 19 June 2013 (UTC)

While this was a joke, I can find a more inspirational view. In this case, while Elaine Roberts is fictional, you (that is, the programmer who reads xkcd) can be excellent hackers. You have the potential to achieve exploits (not just cracking ones). You just have to work towards your goal. In other words, the reason why the IP address points to your home is because you have the 'spirit' of Elaine Roberts. Greyson (talk) 21:57, 20 January 2016 (UTC)

Shouldn't we mention Dread Pirate Roberts a.k.a. Ross William Ulbricht, the Silkroad founder? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Also, the joke is that the sentence from the Princess Bride _isn't_ exactly mimicked. Cary Elwes says "you'd make a wonderful Dread Pirate Roberts," where DPR is the full title. Elaine is told that she make a "great dread Pirate, Roberts," - Roberts being Elaine's surname. 23:28, 6 November 2014 (UTC)

  • Rather pedantic bit of critique. The comma is just there so the joke makes sense as a line.- Pennpenn 02:24, 20 January 2015 (UTC)

It should also be mentioned that the "Dread Pirate Roberts" was the nickname of the guy who ran Silk Road.-- 18:07, 29 January 2015 (UTC)

according to Wikipedia, he Silk Road wasn't started until years after this comic was published. Interestingly enough, the titular comic 1337 was, which coincidentally also happens to be titled "Hack." 17:39, 12 March 2015 (UTC)

Someone needs to put a stop to all these incomplete tags that are really just demands for more and more information. I tried clearing out all the "Tell me more" incomplete tags, but someone reverted them, and then added MORE. 23:05, 28 July 2016 (UTC)JWB

I reverted your changes. You removed every incomplete tag, including ones that were merited, within a time span that made it difficult to believe you were properly vetting the pages to make sure they were complete. The most telling part was your removal of the incomplete tag on 1608 without also removing the red text the tag was referring to, indicating that you weren't reading the messages on the tags either before judging that they were satisfied and removing them. Davidy²²[talk] 00:54, 29 July 2016 (UTC)

I reviewed the reasons given for the incomplete tags, and removed all the ones that boiled down to "more". Most of these were just things like "Needs more details", "It would be cool if" and even "Explain this complicated scientific concept to me". Hoverboard is an example of the last category I cleared, which was essentially "Please recreate this super-detailed thing Randall did with documentation of every single detail." That's not a realistic standard for a complete explanation, and therefore the incomplete project would *never* be finished.

657, for example, is a request that is both pointless and unfillable - you can't create a transcript for a chart. 1556 is "I don't like this explanation. 980 is "Reconstruct Randall's data".

These requests are entirely pointless and irrational for an explanation of the comic. The goal here is to EXPLAIN the comic, not simply create a second version. 10:58, 29 July 2016 (UTC)JWB

We transcribe charts because there are people who can't see them, due to physical condition or internet. A transcript that does not contain the contents of the comic is not sufficient to deliver the same content that sighted users experience, and it does not help us if someone comes by and deems vague transcripts good enough. We do aim to document every feature of large comics; see the pages for 1110 and 1190. Also, some explanations are legitimately lacking in information and when you delete the tags from ~30 pages within the span of 10 minutes, it is very difficult for me to believe that you're checking to make sure the pages are actually finished. I bothered to read the pages instead of batch rolling back all your changes for the day, but it would have been nice if you'd taken the time to do it yourself when deleting tags. Davidy²²[talk] 08:53, 30 July 2016 (UTC)

If I may ask, what are the specifics behind the incomplete explanation? Could we just say that Stallman wrote the GNU Manifesto (source: https://www.gnu.org/gnu/manifesto.en.html) where he asked for help working on GNU and his goal was to share it with everyone - hence encourage sharing in the public mind? The bit about defacing websites makes sense because, unlike a normal human who would more or less likely just start a fight with whomever made one too many mom jokes, she uses her hacking skills to mess with their websites. Is there anything else we need to say about that? Da_NKP (talk) 13:28, 22 August 2016 (UTC)

Bobby may be little because his growth is stunted by malnutrition (food insecurity) -- 18:43, 3 March 2017 (UTC)

I thought Bobby asking for food was a reference to Linus Torvalds's mom occasionally throwing him food every few days when he was holed up in front of his computer as a teenager. I think that's an anecdote of from his autobiography, "Just for Fun". (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Incompleteness: I've added yet another sentence (itunes removing DRM, rise of streaming services) to the title text explanation, which now seems sufficient to me. I therefore removed "title text explanation?" from the incompleteness notification. 20:33, 28 June 2017 (UTC)