Another "explain this xkcd" request [July 20]

This one

Unusual in that I got the punchline but didn’t understand the set-up.

Well, for one thing, the ls command lists all the files in a folder. Instead, ls is running a different command.

The file it is running is a JAR file, which is (essentially*) a java executable. Java executables are often used on phones. The folder structure mentions Adobe and Android, making me think it has something to do with Adobe Air, a program for porting Flash programs to handheld phones.

Whether there’s really such a folder structure, I don’t know. That may be part of the joke–connecting Java, Android, and Adobe.

*It’s a Java archive, but, in my experience, those usually contain apps.

As BigT said, ls is a basic file listing command. It’s so core to Unix/Linux that a system in such a corrupted state that ls doesn’t work shouldn’t really even boot.

The path is bizarre, not just because of the weird directory structure, but of the fact that it seems to be in the path variable (the locations that are searched to find an executable). And then there’s the “Device is not responding” error. On Unix-like systems, all devices (hard drives, network cards, etc.) are actually files as well. If you try to access one in the wrong way, you might get an error like that. But the ls.jar file seems to be an otherwise normal file, so for it to give errors like a device file is bizarre indeed.

Probably nothing like that could ever actually happen… but that’s the joke. Or maybe he just installed Adobe Reader.

Can someone more computer literate than myself explain just what is so fantastic about the server error that came up?

I’ve got a dim sort of understanding, which I’ll share with you.

ls is a standard command on any unix-like operating system (which are commonly used for servers). It just means “list files and folders”. Which is what stick-girl tried to do.

Instead, somehow, stick-boy managed to replace the standard ls command with something else, so now it won’t work. On a windows machine, it’d be sort of like if you deleted the bit that lets you open folders and see what’s inside. Replacing it requires a special sort of destructive ability on the part of stick-boy.

Yeah, the joke is that a basic system command has somehow been substituted by a java app for a phone, running on a virtual machine inside the examples folder of some Adobe app.

For our non-Unix/Linux speaking Dopers:

ls (list): is DOS’ dir command on steroids.

The tech is trying to see what is wrong. Using the ls command to troubleshoot at this point is a joke in itself, as the tech should have asked the user what the problem was before launching any command. It’s a four panel comic, so I’ll forgive them.

The output from typing ls says:


/root/sbin is equivalent (shut up Unix/Linux people; I’m trying not to geek this up any more than I have too) to c:\windows\system32

Somehow (and it can be done, but you really have to work at this) the ls command has been linked to an executable that is trying to run a java file that is for an Android Virtual Machine (possibly an emulator for developing and testing apps). Said java file cannot talk to the target device (possibly a phone).

The tech, knowing this person has effed up their system (for one thing, someone would be a moron to use a well-known internal command name as the name for a script), delivers the punchline.

In the DOS/Windows world, it would be like taking the dir command, and reassigning it to open a command window and trigger one the serial ports.

Why do I even bother to read this comic. It is so far over my head. By the time ministryman got to the third paragraph, I was over here drooling and licking the windows.

If you didn’t get it, you’re in good company. I’m a software engineer who has worked a little with Linux, and I still don’t get the humour, even after reading ministryman’s explanation. I’m not sure if I’m missing something, or the joke is “this is a really fucked up system”. It might be based on some real-world problem.

I’m a fan of XKCD, but any joke that requires such extensive explanation is not a joke at all.


Even the smart kids are having troubles with this one.

Merged two threads about this comic, which I probably won’t get no matter how many times I read the explanations.

So, if I understand the explanations correctly, the set-up is the woman typed in a command that should be really basic and the man has screwed up the computer so badly is can’t handle even this basic command - in other words he’s screwed up the computer in a way that shouldn’t be physically possible. Leading to the punchline, which as I said, I understood.

Yes, with the addition that the way in which he screwed it up involves more layers of absurdity, with incompatible systems jammed together in a big mess.

That’s pretty much it, with a side order of “It’s so screwed up, I don’t even know where to start fixing it.”

I don’t think it’s completely impossible, but it is broken in a spectacularly bizarre and fundamental way. A *nix geek could probably do it on purpose, but it wouldn’t be easy. I don’t know how anyone could do it by accident…but I won’t discount the possibility. (I have a friend who has been known to produce similarly weird problems–he knows just enough to be dangerous, and he has a natural Murphyonic field.)

I can’t get over how funny that is.

On a server.:eek:

I can, unfortunately, think of a way to break a Unix server in this way. It would involve a single, insanely complicated command line, because you can’t break something this badly in stages. I cannot think of any way to fix it–you couldn’t even wipe the hard drive and start over, because you’ve hosed the OS too badly in getting to this point to get it to wipe the hard drive. The female character’s plan sounds like a good one; once the computers have become sentient and superintelligent, you can just politely ask it to fix itself.

I also agree that it couldn’t happen by accident. I guess that’s the joke in the setup–the level of understanding of the OS needed to be able to do this is absurdly incompatible with the cluelessness needed to think it was a good idea.

Here’s a link to the full page, so you can do a mouseover. (Which doesn’t help. Oh, well.)