912: Manual Override

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Manual Override
I think you mean 'GNU Info Override'.
Title text: I think you mean 'GNU Info Override'.


There are two jokes in this comic. The first is that the pilot typed "man override" to manually override the plane's computer and steer the plane to safety, but instead he ends up opening the manual page for "OVERRIDE". The second joke is making fun of a trend in documentation for Unix-like systems using the free GNU toolchain.

Historically, UNIX systems had a way to access descriptions of the available programs by using the "man" command (from "manual"). Typing "man [program name]" would output a concise, helpful text, called a "man page", describing the program's functionality, available command-line options, a list of related programs, etc. For some GNU-based systems, however, the output of "man [program name]" will be entirely too brief, mainly telling what the program does, then directing the user to invoke a GNU-specific information system (GNU Info). GNU Info pages can be quite useful, e.g. they often contain much more information than man pages, and are hypertextual, allowing quick navigation through a network of content-related Info pages; however, they often are much more complex to search through than simple man files, which take the form of single scrollable pages, one per program.

As such, the humor is predicated upon understanding the frustration which sometimes arises when GNU users seek out a man page, hoping for an easy, digestible read, only to find that the man page they opened merely redirects them to another, less accessible network of hypertext Info pages. This can be especially annoying when it interrupts a person's workflow; e.g. when what they wanted was to spend three seconds looking up the proper format of a particular command line function, and instead they end up redirected to a maze of detailed documentation. This would be especially dangerous when one is trying to stop a plane from crashing.[citation needed] To add injury to the insult, sometimes the Info pages aren't actually installed, causing the "info" viewer to just render the same old "man" page that had the directions in the first place.

The title text provides a tongue-in-cheek correction to the comic's title, suggesting that rather than typing "man(ual) override", the user/pilot should type "info override" to search GNU Info instead.


[A plane is in a nosedive with smoke pouring from one wing. Text comes from someone reading in the cockpit.]
"This is the emergency override system, which can be used to regain control of the aircraft.
Complete instructions for activating this system are available as a GNU info page."

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I think that the joke here is actually that the pilot is attempting a manual override (I.E. overriding the automatic pilot and switch to manual control) by typing in 'manual override'(which is also the title, in fact), and the parser instead opens the manual under the 'manual' command for the 'override' program (as explained in this page), not that the manual is too long to be read in that specific situation (while that is a valid argument). 12:36, 14 April 2013 (UTC)

Agreed. Wotpsycho (talk) 02:50, 17 May 2013 (UTC)
Yup. Sounds right. 04:32, 8 June 2013 (UTC)Manan

The info page is overriding the man(ual) page as a source of information, even the name? --Qwach (talk) 23:06, 31 August 2013 (UTC)

"man override" is giving the (gnu) manual page for the override command. Yes? 06:39, 21 January 2014 (UTC)

There is no "man override" on UNIX like systems. And "GNU Info Override" brings up "bash: GNU: command not found...", while "info Override" shows up a full page off standard information, a small line at the bottom indicates that even here this page doesn't exist. Much more funny is: How to close this "Info Window"... There is no intuitive navigation on that window. CTRL+C helped. --Dgbrt (talk) 23:25, 9 March 2014 (UTC)

I always though that info was designed by people who tried vim and emacs and considered them too easy. Luckily, there are other programs for reading info pages, like pinfo. -- Hkmaly (talk) 00:23, 10 March 2014 (UTC)

Anyone else feel like the comic is going a bit out of its way to make sure people get the joke? The title is the command, and the title text basically repeats the last line of the comic (albeit in the form of a command). 06:31, 10 March 2014 (UTC)

No - if you have never heard of Gnu info pages or man pages, then to have any chance of understanding the meaning the title text might help. Although I'm sure I would never have understood this completely without explain XKCD... (I hope I understand it now). As the explanation now has been changed as discussed above, and which was also asked for in the incomplete box, I have changed this explanation to complete - after having written the line about the title text - which I believe is said to the pilot, after his initial command opened the "man" page! Kynde (talk) 09:01, 10 March 2014 (UTC)

Somehow this reminds me of the movie Hackers, wherein the central character refers to himself as "Crash Override"; Not that such a command exists. 08:46, 13 June 2016 (UTC)

I did some edits, but I fear this is still not smooth enough for non UNIX people. (Posted from a Linux Desktop Computer) --Dgbrt (talk) 20:48, 10 March 2014 (UTC)