743: Infrastructures

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
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The heartfelt tune it plays is CC licensed, and you can get it from my seed on JoinDiaspora.net whenever that project gets going.
Title text: The heartfelt tune it plays is CC licensed, and you can get it from my seed on JoinDiaspora.net whenever that project gets going.


Cueball has sent an essay to his friend, likely Richard Stallman, an advocate of free and open-source software. While the essay itself was good, Stallman worries because the essay was in the .doc format, the proprietary format that old versions of Microsoft Word used. He advises Cueball to use a format based on an open standard, possibly ODF, ODT, ODS, ODP, or other types derived from something such as OpenOffice.org XML.

Cueball, who does not appreciate Stallman criticizing the file format over the actual contents of the file, accuses him of pedantically stirring up trouble instead of simply caring that the software works (which is what most regular users would be concerned about). Given that it can be a challenge to move from a familiar proprietary application to an open-source rival which may lack compatibility, features, support, and popularity, Cueball's stance is not entirely unjustified.

Stallman tries to explain that he is just concerned about the current proprietary software infrastructure that forces users to use software in a specific way, penalizing them for sharing the software or even preventing looking at the source code in order to learn what the program actually does or how it works. Cueball, however, isn't buying it, and accuses him of having an arrogance that crowds out his perspective, while also claiming that he is autistic, an ableist epithet often aimed, particularly by denizens of online forums and imageboards, at people who have an intense fixation on seemingly trivial things.

Seven years later, Cueball runs to Stallman, having become alarmed at Facebook's immense control and dubious policies about the personal information it collects. Since this is exactly the kind of situation Stallman was warning against, he sarcastically retorts by producing "the world's tiniest open-source violin". This is a twist on "playing the world's smallest violin", a gesture used to convey sarcastic pity at someone else's misfortune. Interestingly, he does actually appear to possess the physical instrument itself, which is uncommon. This implies that he has been carrying around the violin for this eventuality (not unlike what Black Hat does in 757: Toot), or perhaps he uses this sarcastic expression often enough to warrant it. Since the violin is so tiny, it is rendered only by a few pixels forming a line bottomed with an ovoid shape resembling the vague shape of a violin. The problem with the lack of open source and Facebook is also the subject of 1390: Research Ethics.

The title text references the following pieces of infrastructure that are compatible with the "free software" ideology:

  • Creative Commons licenses (CC licensed) use existing copyright law to permit someone to share a creative work anywhere so long as the sharer attributes credit to the creator of the work. The particular CC license chosen may also allow for modification, derivative works, and/or commercial usage. The fellow's phrase "you can get it" in the title text is ambiguous: is he offering to share the code for the violin, or the tune that the violin plays? But since CC licenses are not used for software, we can assume "it" refers to the tune: either an audio recording of it, or perhaps source material from which to make modified versions.
  • diasporafoundation.org (formerly joindiaspora.net, and then joindiaspora.com) is the central host of Diaspora*, an open-source alternative to Facebook which puts the user in control of how their information is used. Of course, this sort of use of Diaspora would eliminate Cueball's concern over how Facebook handled his information. A few months after this comic released, a consumer alpha version of Diaspora* was released, and, after more than a decade, an official version would be released.
  • a Diaspora "seed" is a personal web server that interacts in a Diaspora "pod" of servers. It stores all of your information (such as the tune in this case) and shares it with your friends, in a way that respects your preferences around privacy, etc.


[Cueball approaches a bearded fellow.]
Cueball: Did you get my essay?
Bearded Fellow: Yeah, it was good! But it was a .doc; You should really use a more open-
Cueball: Give it a rest already. Maybe we just want to live our lives and use software that works, not get wrapped up in your stupid nerd turf wars.
Bearded Fellow: I just want people to care about the infrastructures we're building and who-
Cueball: No, you just want to feel smugly superior. You have no sense of perspective and are probably autistic.
Cueball: Oh my God! We handed control of our social world to Facebook and they're DOING EVIL STUFF!
Bearded Fellow: Do you see this?
[Inset, the bearded fellow rubs his index and middle fingers against his thumb.]
Bearded Fellow: It's the world's tiniest open-source violin.


In response to this comic, a 3D model for a tiny violin was released as open-source files.

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The link inside "arrogance that crowds out perspective" is merely an example of a situation in which someone with the same ideology that Cueball has can declare that proponents of free software have arrogance instead of perspective. Greyson (talk) 14:23, 12 February 2013 (UTC)

How do we know that professor is going to do anything with the document other than read it? I remember electronic submission back in the Word 6 era (and probably earlier) as a direct replacement to handing over pieces of paper. Doesn't affect the joke, but is rather an unsubstantiated and unnecessary part of the explanation. 00:02, 5 May 2013 (UTC)

This could use some serious style editing. I have a bad habit of using parentheses, and find that forcing myself not to use them can actually improve my writing (kowabunga! - oh shit). Whoever put in the large parenthetical expressions here may need to learn that as well. Or learn LISP, where they'll realize that parentheses are not always your friends. --Quicksilver (talk) 02:13, 20 August 2013 (UTC)

This seems a bit painted to me, sure its a comic in favor of open source but the explanation doesn't have to sound like it was written by a snob. --Lackadaisical (talk) 23:22, 5 November 2013 (UTC)

Diaspora seed
a personal web server that stores all of your information and shares it with your friends

"Seed" is not used in the torrent sense (of a running client, seeding a file to other clients), but as a "personal web server that stores all of your information and shares it with your friends" via the http protocol. See [1] and [2]. Here is the text I replaced:

The "seed" to which the fellow mentioned is a reference to the BitTorrent protocol, an infrastructure that allows users to share files for others to download directly from them (rather than from a server). Essentially, the user packs a description of the files in a torrent file, then "seeds" the torrent file using a program made for torrenting (for example, μTorrent). People who want to download the files would first download the corresponding torrent file, and open it in a torrenting program to "leech" (download) the original files. After the files referred by the torrent file are downloaded, the "leechers" can "seed" them too, so that more people can download the files from them in turn. Since the user is in control of the upload and download, torrenting is an option of choice for those in support of free software.

Nealmcb (talk) 16:46, 5 July 2014 (UTC)

Since when does most of the open source word processors not save in .DOC as well, just because it is saved in that format does not mean it had to be made with MS Word. Most of the time unless I am sending a .PDF I save a copy of what I am working on in .DOC just to be sure the receiver can open it as most programs can. 13:44, 4 August 2017 (UTC)

Still relevant lol --DPS2004'); DROP TABLE users;-- (talk) 18:20, 18 June 2018 (UTC)

No autist in over 5 years has pointed out that the bearded guy is Richard Stallman, for shame. 20:39, 4 December 2018 (UTC)

Why is playing "the world's tiniest open-source violin" described as "dubious"? Cueball has, in spite of warnings, engaged in and encouraged the spread of the use of an infrastructure which will have the inevitable effect of handing control of all his data to psychopathic corporations. The Bearded One surely has a right to have no pity, and in effect say "Told you so". 09:18, 25 January 2019 (UTC)

'Let me press F on the world's smallest keyboard.' Beanie (talk) 14:29, 22 April 2021 (UTC)

Removed statement that the bearded man is actually holding a physical tiny violin: I see no basis for this interpretation, and the official xkcd transcript refutes it: it states that "the bearded fellow rubs his index and middle fingers against his thumb" - which is the typical gesture to accompany this quip. L-Space Traveler (talk) 11:12, 28 October 2022 (UTC)

Did not see this when I decided to unremove it. But I also don't believe this no-violin version. (Actually "playing the smallest violin" is done with two hands under the chin, IME, the 'official' version sounds more a "show me the money" gesture than anything violin-related.) Fingers are exceedingly rare in xkcd figures, but the pen-strokes would excellently fit an upraised palm with a small object (violin) sat upon it, at this resolution (pity there's no _2x version?). Given that, I say we should at least acknowledge the possible presence. Perhaps note how the official version (seemingly) indicates otherwise, but not clearing it out altogether. 11:54, 28 October 2022 (UTC)
I've never seen the under-the-chin version you mention in-person - maybe there are regional variations? In any case, I still don't see it, but I won't argue. I guess if they were all obvious, we wouldn't need the "explain". :) L-Space Traveler (talk) 12:07, 28 October 2022 (UTC)
Just from my own experience: Imagine you're miming playing a violin, one hand supporting the neck, the other bowing a bow, the whole thing being tucked into your neck. Now imagine the violin has vastly shrunk and pull your necking/bowing hands proportionately closer in accordingly (and, optionally, shortening the bowing into smaller, quicker movements, but you can try to use a full-sized bow - it's just really close to you now). I know of no other way to reliably indicate a violin (and, by the latter, a really tiny one), and none with just one hand. The above fingers/thumbs description presumably means bowing the fingers across the 'violin' thumb, which would at least look more like playing a cello. Of course there are regional variations to most things, but I would have thought I'd have seen this on American media.
It indeed reads more like the 'universal' gesture demanding cash, insofar as I can try to replicate the gesture, with either hand, but I don't know what the remaining two fingers are supposed to be doing, or how to stop the thumb wriggling notably). 14:26, 28 October 2022 (UTC)
A understand this analysis, but I've reliably seen this gesture portrayed in real-life the same way that the original transcript describes. I always interpreted it to mean that because it is such a tiny violin, it requires only two fingers - or, there is no room for more fingers - to play it. Thinking about it, I think I've always seen the "money" gesture done with all the finger tips, and facing straight up, where I've always seen "violin" with just the thumb and first finger, and always facing sideways. L-Space Traveler (talk) 11:55, 29 October 2022 (UTC)

Thingiverse entry[edit]

this comic says it was uploaded may 21, 2010, but the thingiverse open source violin was uploaded may 20! how??? 00:18, 26 October 2022 (UTC)Bumpf