1741: Work

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Revision as of 18:04, 3 October 2016 by Kynde (talk | contribs) (Transcript: Details and removing title text from transcript)
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Despite it being imaginary, I already have SUCH a strong opinion on the cord-switch firing incident.
Title text: Despite it being imaginary, I already have SUCH a strong opinion on the cord-switch firing incident.


This comic details a set of theoretical examples of how much work went into the design and manufacture of everyday objects. The joke centers around the fact that most people in modern times are constantly surrounded with human-built objects, which we generally use without giving them much thought. Randall implies that he occasionally imagines what went into seemingly simple objects around him (like water glasses and desk lamps), and finds it overwhelming. This is because there are so many built items around us, many of which are inexpensive and mass-produced, which nonetheless resulted from a great deal of human effort. (This is similar to the thesis of the classic essay I, Pencil). Presumably, this kind of realization is more likely for people who've worked in design and engineering, like Randall, because they have some insight into what's involved in bringing a product to market. Also people who sit around all day wondering what could be funny, like Randall, could also end up in such a thought spiral. The comment about California recalls is based on the tags on products that often state "This item has been known by the state of California to cause..."

There's a double joke in the title as the first thing most people will think of when seeing such a table with such a lamp, they will think of a work desk rather than the work put into making the desk and lamp. The potential implication is that Randall is so distracted imagining the work that went into creating his workspace that he can't get his own work done, hence the title.

The title text hits another aspect of the design issue. Companies that design and manufacture goods will inevitably have human conflicts, where decisions will be argued over, and human personalities and office politics will impact the final design. Randall has apparently come up with an entire fictional narrative about a conflict over whether to put the lamp's switch on the lamp body itself, or to attach it to the lamp's power cord, and developed a strong opinion about who was right, and is angry that the other part was fired, since he really seems to dislike lamps with the switch on the cord as in this comic. Randall's distaste for lamps where the switch is on the cord is also mentioned in the title text of 1036: Reviews.

A similar theme of the unseen contributions of engineers is found in 277: Long Light, including the title text: "You can look at practically any part of anything manmade around you and think 'some engineer was frustrated while designing this.' It's a little human connection." This fits in well with Randall's annoyance with a switch on the cord.

Individual Design Elements


[A table is shown with a glass of water to the left and a lamp standard type desk lamp on the left. There are nine labels in relation to different parts of these three items. For each label, one or two arrows points to the relevant part. Five labels are written above the table, two on the table and two below the table between the front legs. These last two labels are causing the table legs to the rear to disappear, and also cuts the lamp cord, going beneath the table, in two. Below each label will be written under a description of what they point to going in normal reading order from left to right, two lines above, one line on and one line below the table.]
[Arrow points a line that follow the curve of the lamps shade:]
An engineer worked late drawing this curve in AutoCAD
[Arrow points to back of lamp shade just above the stem. The shade has four visible vents on the front. The part the arrow points to is not visible:]
Extra vents added to avoid California safety recall
[Arrow points to glass:]
Years-long negotiation with glass supplier
[A double arrow is placed above the center of the glass, ending on two lines above the edges of the glass:]
4 hours of meetings
[Two arrow points on either side of the lamp's stem:]
9 hours of meetings
[Two arrow, one pointing up at the bottom and the other down at the inside bottom of the glass:]
Months of tip-over testing
[An arrow points to the lamp information sticker on the bottom part of the lamps base. Unreadable text can be seen as thins lines on the sticker:]
Ongoing debate
[An arrow points to the front edge of the desk, ending in a starburst on the edge:]
Wood source changed due to 20 year legal fight over logging in the Great Bear rainforest
[Arrow points to the switch on the lamps cord which can be seen going over the right edge of the table and hanging down below the table. The switch can be seen just under the table edge:]
Argument over putting switch on cord got someone fired
[Caption under the panel:]
Sometimes I get overwhelmed thinking about the amount of work that went into the ordinary objects around me.

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Whoa, I've never been early enough to beat the explanation before. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

To, please remember to sign your posts. --JayRulesXKCD (talk) 13:21, 3 October 2016 (UTC)

I wrote the transcript. Feel free to change it so it's not so bare and write the explanation. Thanks. --JayRulesXKCD (talk) 13:20, 3 October 2016 (UTC)

Done ;-) --Kynde (talk) 13:37, 4 October 2016 (UTC)

To prevent fire hazards, objects in California are not allowed to surpass a certain temperature, 140 °C if I'm correct . Can't find the actual law quick. 18:01, 3 October 2016 (UTC)

I think Randall underestimates the problem. I used to work for the research arm of the electronics multinational, Philips. When a product design was "finished", it had to go to a special committee who decided where, exactly, on the product did the word "PHILIPS" and their little shield logo go - and (rarely) whether these things should be done in black or white. It was VERY frequently the case that the committee would take longer to come to a conclusion than the product took to design. SteveBaker (talk) 20:32, 3 October 2016 (UTC)

I often wonder about those tiny, cheap plastic toys that come in Xmas crackers (UK) or the 25 cent toy vending machines (USA). They are completely crappy things - but thinking that someone thought about what kind of toy should be made - then designed the shape of it, thought about the color of plastic to use, spent tens of thousands of dollars machining an injection mold for it - and STILL turned out a complete piece of junk...it's anyone's guess what effort that took. I know it costs around $40,000 to make a mold like that - but those toys look like someone who was being paid very, very little, spent no more than an afternoon designing each one! SteveBaker (talk) 20:32, 3 October 2016 (UTC)

What a coincidence. I just got out of my Product Development class. I remember having to deal with so many of these things that it's completely relatable. Jeudi Violist (talk) 21:17, 3 October 2016 (UTC)

Wow, that curve would be a bitch to draw in AutoCAD. I still shudder... Papayaman1000 (talk) 21:22, 3 October 2016 (UTC)

If anything, I'll bet the timeframes listed are shorter than they really took (only months of tip-over tests? only 9 hours of meetings on the arm?? David Lang (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I don't know anything about glass production, but is it true that "what compounds are allowed around the glass during production" matters? It sounds like those martini recipes where one waves a bottle of vermouth towards the glass. Miamiclay (talk) 05:47, 4 October 2016 (UTC)

I'm no expert, but if impurities gets into the glass the color or refraction may change or the strength. And if it is a drinking glass there may be any kind of toxic products that may be used in creating window glass etc. that could not be allowed to enter the production. --Kynde (talk) 13:37, 4 October 2016 (UTC)
I wouldn't call myself an expert on glass in cups, either, but I've learned about FDA guidelines, studied manufacturing processes, and visited a glass production company once. The FDA has issued a warning on lead crystal glass cups, and lead has been found in regular glass, and as you said there are many contaminants that can be present during manufacturing from any material but if the material comes in contact with food or drink (such as cups) special care has to be taken to avoid those toxins. I am not 100% sure this is done with drinking glass, but it makes sense. Even if nobody cares about getting toxins in drinking glasses, this comic is about "imaging the work that went into design" and not "knowing exactly what went into design". Jeudi Violist (talk) 03:57, 5 October 2016 (UTC)
My favourite (fake) dry martini recipe included having a friend in Hong Kong (the writer was based in Britain) whisper the word "Vermouth" over the 'phone, whilst the handset was held close (but not too close) to the Gin!RoyT (talk) 07:37, 5 October 2016 (UTC)

Randall may, indeed, be annoyed about the cord switch, but there is nothing in the comic or the title text to suggest that. He does, however, have a strong opinion on the "cord switch _firing_ incident". Perhaps that bit of the explanation should be amended? RoyT (talk) 06:48, 4 October 2016 (UTC)

I think they say that because he implied in the title text of a previous comic that having the switch on the cord is worse than having your dog possessed by a demon. 11:43, 4 October 2016 (UTC)
Both are true. I have corrected the explanation to say that he is upset about the firing. And then by referring to the old comic makes sense of why he might have such a strong op--Kynde (talk) 13:37, 4 October 2016 (UTC)inion.

Removed an abusive and trolling "disclaimer" asking us to evaluate our life choices and our support of the comic. Trolling is unwelcome. Enfield (talk) 17:41, 4 October 2016 (UTC)

I think about design a lot and however many hours are spent on some products it never ceases to amaze me how the primary feature can fail so terribly, like pouring a liquid without the liquid spilling. 00:42, 5 October 2016 (UTC)

It's a bit strange to emphasize the work that went into designing these things, but to completely fail to mention to work that went in to *actually* making them. Shades of Marx and the table's wooden brain? Arctother (talk) 18:56, 9 October 2016 (UTC)

An engineer worked into the night? Maybe if the engineer had let a draftsman do the job for him all that time could have been saved. Mind you, ACAD is a drawing package. Modelling up that lamp assembly in any quarter decent 3D package is a tutorial exercise. 10:16, 11 October 2016 (UTC)

All of these objects look like they were designed <= 1950. So no AutoCAD involved.-- 10:52, 29 October 2016 (UTC)

Huh? How so? I can buy all of those products in a store today, and while yes, the general products were in existence before/around the '50s, the Korean company that made my el-cheapo dollar store versions had to make the designs from scratch. Yes, they had a general *idea* on how to make it, that only goes so far into what's discussed. -- Papayaman1000 (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

Individual Design Elements
Description Explanation
An engineer worked late drawing this curve in AutoCAD AutoCAD is a popular software package for doing computer-aided design.
Extra vents added to avoid California safety recall
9 hours of meetings
Ongoing debate
Years-long negotiation with glass supplier
4 hours of meetings
Months of tip-over testing
Wood source changed due to 20 year legal fight over logging in the Great Bear rainforest The Great Bear rainforest is a temperate rainforest on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada. The government of British Columbia recently announced an agreement to protect 85% of this forest from commercial logging.
Argument over putting switch on cord got someone fired