I’m going through a rough period right now. There’s an illness in my family and I’m having a hard time focusing on anything but worrying and trying to take care of health stuff. Everyone is going to be okay, but it’s going to be a difficult four or five months, and I really appreciate your patience and understanding. I’m going to keep putting up comics, but I don’t how much else I’ll be able to work on.

To anyone I’ve been corresponding with, I’m sorry that I may be even more tardy than usual. While davean (the xkcd sysadmin/business manager) monitors the address, I know he only forwards to me a fraction of the huge flood of mail that goes there. If you’re trying to reach me personally about something, you can write to me directly at, but I’m afraid I won’t able to reply to most of it right now.

I know there haven’t been any posts here in a while. Since most of my projects are on hold right now, I thought I’d share some pictures from one that’s almost done: an underwater ROV. Exploring lakes and oceans has always fascinated me, and while I’ve spent a lot of time snorkeling and free diving, in the end I’m more interested in sending robots than going myself.

I tried to build a couple of ROVs in high school out of scavenged R/C cars and spare parts, but none of them ever worked very well. Last summer, I got interested again and picked up an Inventivity ROV-in-a-Box:

Inventivity ROVIAB

It’s a very basic kit designed to use off-the-shelf parts as much as possible, to encourage people to play with the design or expand on it. I’ve gotten a lot of help and some cool ideas from the company founder, Dr. Karen Suhm, who coaches robotics teams in ROV-building competitions and generally knows everything about ROVs. The kit comes with a good set of underwater motors and a sensitive camera, and this summer I started modifying it to use an Arduino and joystick control, running the whole thing over Cat-5 cable (which significantly lightened the tether). This will also let me add other equipment, like a still camera, depth gauge, compass, and sonar.

It’s very close to being finished—I just have a couple wires to reroute and a leak to seal—but for now, here are some pictures from construction and testing:


I made a coupler so the tether could be detached, and added a chamber to hold the Arduino, Ethernet shield, and motor control board. A Python script on the surface translates joystick values into motor speeds, and the Arduino has some code to listen to commands via the Ethernet and control the motors using three TLE-5206 H-bridges. The 5206s offer more protection than some other H-bridges—I initially used some smaller chips, and managed to blow out a couple. (Thank you to mpanetta of #sparkfun for hooking me up with the 5206s.)

A note to anyone who wants to build something like this: the Arduino isn’t actually capable of processing video, so you’ll need to either put an Ethernet camera and hub on the rover, or—if your camera isn’t digital—do what I did and divert two of the Cat-5’s twisted pairs to carry RCA video, running the Ethernet solely on the other half.

This canoe (and everything else in the shot) travels through time.

My friend Mike loaned his canoe for depth testing in Walden Pond, which is (according to data from the 1940s) the deepest lake in Massachusetts

It's about 90 feet down from here.

At the bottom of Walden, there are close to three extra atmospheres of pressure.

In this shot, read left to right.

The zip ties double as binary depth markers. This one is 14 meters.


This is the vacuum pump for sealing up wires passing into the sub (it’s sitting atop a draft of the online communities map). If you open up the exterior/water side of a cable and submerse it in a pool of marine epoxy, then apply suction to the dry interior of the sub, it sucks the epoxy through the cable, plugging it up completely. You can also use it to suck all the air out of a wine bottle with random objects inside. It’s fun to see how different materials react to a near-vacuum—particularly if you’ve just drunk a bottle of wine. I didn’t get much more done that day.

Lastly, here’s a clip of the bottom of Walden Pond, about 80 feet below the surface.  This was an unpowered pressure test—the sub was just dangling on a rope—so it’s not very exciting, but it was the only test where I could record the video feed:

The Walden lakebed is pretty dead—the material you’re seeing is flakes of debris stirred up by the sub. In other lakes, we’ve found cooler stuff.  In Seymour Pond on Cape Cod, we had huge catfish fish swim up to the camera and look at it, and we explored a sunken fishing boat on the bottom of Sheep Pond.  I’ve also learned that deck chairs apparently fall off docks all the time—the lakebed 20 feet below the dock on one lake was absolutely littered with them.  When I get a chance to send it to some more interesting places, I’ll be sure to share footage.

P.S. A belated thank-you to the NYC Makerbotters; after I posted comic #743, they fabricated and mailed to me an actual tiny open-source violin.


Color Survey

People have made some fun things with the color survey data already.  Howard Yeend did a 3D visualization, Gissehel made some maps out of the raw data, and Rune Grimstad made a color picker tool.  Also, Jacob Rus nerd sniped me with this, which is not related to the color survey but I’m sharing it anyway.


Breadpig, the publisher of the xkcd book, is holding a survey to see where people want Room to Read to invest their remaining profits from the book.  If you want to vote, it closes at noon EST on Monday.

xkcd: Mobile Version

If you read xkcd on your phone, or you just prefer simple pages without a lot of clutter, check out  It has a nice, clean design and should be capable of showing the alt-text in any browser (even Lynx, which can’t even show the comic). Report any problems with the site to  Thanks!

Sex and Gender

I’ve gotten a few emails and /msgs about this so I really wanted to post a clarification.

When I put the color survey together, I was mostly interested in making maps and tables of color names; the opening survey was almost an afterthought. Elizabeth added a question about chromosomal sex, since it’s closely correlated with colorblindness (she’s one of the rare colorblind women).

We debated for a long time to find a wording of the question that would be answerable unambiguously by everyone, regardless of gender identification or any other issues.  In response to a friend who was suggesting we were overcomplicating things, she said, “I *refuse* to word the question in a way that doesn’t have a good, clear answer available for transsexuals, intersex people, and people who already know they have chromosomal anomalies.”  I felt the same way, and at the same time I didn’t want to assume everyone remembers what the hell chromosomes are. After hours of debate, everyone was happy with this:

Do you have a Y chromosome?

Don’t Know Yes No If unsure, select “Yes” if you are physically male and “No” if you are physically female. If you have had SRS, please respond for your sex at birth. This question is relevant to the genetics of colorblindness.

We didn’t add a question about gender identification, in part because I wasn’t really planning to do anything with the survey data beyond basic calibration and didn’t want to hassle people with more questions, and in part because gender is really complicated.  We recently programmed Bucket, the IRC chat bot in #xkcd, to allow people set their gender so he can use pronouns for them.  This ended up taking hundreds of lines of code, three pages of documentation, and six different sets of pronouns and variables, just to cover all the basic ways people in the channel with different gender identifications wanted to be referred to (even without invented pronouns like “xe”, which we vetoed).  And that’s just to cover the pronouns.  The role of gender in society is the most complicated thing I’ve ever spent a lot of time learning about, and I’ve spent a lot of time learning about quantum mechanics.

So when I wrote the survey, I really didn’t have anything in mind for the data. After it went up, I saw the DoghouseDiaries comic, and immediately wanted to investigate.  I was really amazed by the results, particularly the top-five list of colors, which came as a complete surprise.  Everyone agreed it was the most interesting of my results (at some point, my friends were sick of hearing me talk about hues and saturations) and I couldn’t resist publishing it somehow.

Originally, my post had a big wall of text discussing how all I had was chromosomal data, and that what the comic talked about was gender identification.  I rewrote this post a bunch of times, and ended up with roughly the wording that’s there now:

[…] realized I could test it (as far as chromosomal sex goes, anyway, which we asked about because it’s tied to colorblindness).

I didn’t want to spend a long time boring people about sex and gender (I’ll talk forever if you let me), but I also wanted to clarify that this was something I cared about and was trying to pay proper attention to.  I ran it by some friends before posting, and they approved; one specifically thanked me for adding that note.  So I figured I’d found a good balance.

But a number of people were still offended or upset by my use of the chromosomal data in a conversation about gender. Now, there are always going to be people upset about anything; as Ford Prefect said, “Fuck ’em. You can’t care about every damn thing.” But this is an issue I really do care about, and one I spend a lot of time trying to get right—and I genuinely appreciate the guidance. If people were offended or feel I didn’t handle this right, I’m sorry, and it’s my fault. But it wasn’t for lack of caring.

And to anyone writing software that handles gender or sex information, it’s a good reminder that these questions are not always straightforward for everyone, and a little courtesy can do a lot to make someone feel respected.

Color Survey Results

Who in the rainbow can draw the line where the violet tint ends and the orange tint begins? Distinctly we see the difference of the colors, but where exactly does the one first blendingly enter into the other? So with sanity and insanity.
—Herman Melville, Billy Budd

Orange, red? I don’t know what to believe anymore!
—Anonymous, Color Survey

—Anonymous, Color Survey

Thank you so much for all the help on the color survey.  Over five million colors were named across 222,500 user sessions.  If you never got around to taking it, it’s too late to contribute any data, but if you want you can see how it worked and take it for fun here.

First, a few basic discoveries:

  • If you ask people to name colors long enough, they go totally crazy.
  • “Puke” and “vomit” are totally real colors.
  • Colorblind people are more likely than non-colorblind people to type “fuck this” (or some variant) and quit in frustration.
  • Indigo was totally just added to the rainbow so it would have 7 colors and make that “ROY G. BIV” acronym work, just like you always suspected. It should really be ROY GBP, with maybe a C or T thrown in there between G and B depending on how the spectrum was converted to RGB.
  • A couple dozen people embedded SQL ‘drop table’ statements in the color names. Nice try, kids.
  • Nobody can spell “fuchsia”.

Overall, the results were really cool and a lot of fun to analyze.  There are some basic limitations of this survey, which are discussed toward the bottom of this post.  But the sheer amount of data here is cool.


By a strange coincidence, the same night I first made the color survey public, the webcomic Doghouse Diaries put up this comic (which I altered slightly to fit in this blog, click for original):

It was funny, but I realized I could test whether it was accurate (as far as chromosomal sex goes, anyway, which we asked about because it’s tied to colorblindness) [Note: For more on this distinction, see my follow-up post]. After the survey closed, I generated a version of the Doghouse Diaries comic with actual data, using the most frequent color name for the handful of colors in the survey closest to the ones in the comic:

Basically, women were slightly more liberal with the modifiers, but otherwise they generally agreed (and some of the differences may be sampling noise).  The results were similar across the survey—men and women tended on average to call colors the same names.

So I was feeling pretty good about equality.  Then I decided to calculate the ‘most masculine’ and ‘most feminine’ colors.  I was looking for the color names most disproportionately popular among each group; that is, the names that the most women came up with compared to the fewest men (or vice versa).

Here are the color names most disproportionately popular among women:

  1. Dusty Teal
  2. Blush Pink
  3. Dusty Lavender
  4. Butter Yellow
  5. Dusky Rose

Okay, pretty flowery, certainly.  Kind of an incense-bomb-set-off-in-a-Bed-Bath-&-Beyond vibe.  Well, let’s take a look at the other list.

Here are the color names most disproportionately popular among men:

  1. Penis
  2. Gay
  3. WTF
  4. Dunno
  5. Baige

I … that’s not my typo in #5—the only actual color in the list really is a misspelling of “beige”.  And keep in mind, this is based on the number of unique people who answered the color, not the number of times they typed it.  This isn’t just the effect of a couple spammers. In fact, this is after the spamfilter.

I weep for my gender.  But, on to:

RGB Values

Here are RGB values for the first 48 out of about a thousand colors whose RGB values (across the average monitor, shown on a white background) I was able to pin down with a fairly high degree of precision:

The full table of 954 colors is here, also available as a text file here (I have no opinion about whether it should be used to build a new X11 rgb.txt except that seems like the transition would be a huge headache.)

The RGB value for a name is based on the location in the RGB color space where there was the highest frequency of responses choosing that name.  This was tricky to calculate.  I tried simple geometric means (conceptually flawed), a brute force survey of all potential center points (too slow), and fitting kernel density functions (math is hard). In the end, I used the average of a bunch of runs of a stochastic hillclimbing algorithm.  For mostly boring notes on my data handling for this list, see the comments at the bottom of the page.

Spelling and Spam

Spelling was an issue for a lot of users:

Now, you may notice that the correct spelling is missing.  This is because I can’t spell it either, and when running the analysis, used Google’s suggestion feature as a spellchecker:

A friend pointed out that to spell it right, you can think of it as “fuck-sia” (“fuch-sia”).

Misspellings aside, a lot of people spammed the database, but there were some decent filters in place.  I dropped out people who gave too many answers which weren’t colors used by many other people.  I also looked at the variation in hue; if people gave the same answer repeatedly for colors of wildly varying hue, I threw out all their results.  This mainly caught people who typed the same thing over and over.  Some were obviously using scripts; based on the filter’s certainty, the #1 spammer in the database was someone who named 2,400 colors—all with the same racial slur.


Here’s a map of color boundaries for a particular part of the RGB cube.  The data here comes from a portion of the survey (1.5 million results) which sampled only this region and showed the colors against both black and white backgrounds.

The data for this chart is here (3.6 MB text file with each RGB triplet named).  Despite some requests, I’m not planning to make a poster of any of this, since it seems wrong to take advantage of all this volunteer effort for a profit; I just wanted to see what the results looked like.  You’re welcome to print one up yourself (huge copy here), but keep in mind that print color spaces are different from monitor ones.

Basic Issues

Of course, there are basic issues with this color survey.  People are primed by the colors they saw previously, which adds overall noise and some biases to the data (although it all seemed to even out in the end).  Moreover, monitors vary; RGB is not an absolute color space.  Fortunately, what I’m really interested in is what colors will look like on a typical monitors, so most of this data is across the sample of all non-colorblind users on all types of monitors (>90% LCD, roughly 6% CRT).

Color is a really fascinating topic, especially since we’re taught so many different and often contradictory ideas about rainbows, different primary colors, and frequencies of light. If you want to understand it better, you might try the neat introduction in Chapter 35 ofThe Feynman Lectures on Physics (Vol. 1), read Charles Poynton’s Color FAQ, or just peruse links from the Wikipedia article on color.  For the purposes of this survey, we’re working inside the RGB space of the average monitor, so this data is useful for picking and naming screen colors. And really, if you’re reading this blog, odds are you probably—like me—spend more time looking at a monitor than at the outdoors anyway.


Lastly, here are some assorted things people came up with while labeling colors:

Thank you so much to relsqui for writing the survey frontend, and to everyone else who sacrificed their eyeballs for this project.  If you have ideas and want to analyze these results further, I’ve posted the raw data as an SQLite dump here (84 MB .tar.gz file). It’s been anonymized, with IPs, URLs, and emails removed.  I also have GeoIP information; if you’d like to do geocorrelation of some kind, I’ll be providing a version of the data with basic region-level lat/long information (limited to protect privacy) sometime in the next few days. Note: The ColorDB data is the main survey.  The SatOnly data is the supplementary survey covering only the RGB faces in the map, and was presented on a half-black half-white background.)

And, of course, if you do anything fun with this data, I’d love to see the results—let me know at

Color Name Survey

I’d like your help for a color name survey!  The survey shows you colors, and you type a name (word or phrase) you might use for that color.  The names can be as broad or specific as you want.  The survey is here:

My friend Elizabeth (relsqui on #xkcd) wrote the frontend. I’m doing the analysis, though I won’t go too deeply into the details or purpose (to the extent that it has one) for now so as not to bias peoples’ answers.  Of course, RGB is a small and relative color space which varies depending on the device displaying it, so this survey has its limits, but it’s produced some cool data so far.

If any of  you want to help, you can fill out a few quick questions (don’t worry if you don’t know the answers—they’re highly optional and just help with calibration) and then come up with color names.  There’s no end to the survey; the more you answer, the better the data.  Thanks!

P.S. I’ve added a few much-requested prints and two new posters (Movie Narrative Charts and Gravity Wells) in the xkcd store.  The prints of Comic #150 (Grownups) are marked backordered right now while I replace a batch that was printed wrong, but they should be shipping again within a week.

Math Puzzle

This cool puzzle (and solution) comes from my friend Mike.

Alice secretly picks two different real numbers by an unknown process and puts them in two (abstract) envelopes.  Bob chooses one of the two envelopes randomly (with a fair coin toss), and shows you the number in that envelope.  You must now guess whether the number in the other, closed envelope is larger or smaller than the one you’ve seen.

Is there a strategy which gives you a better than 50% chance of guessing correctly, no matter what procedure Alice used to pick her numbers?

I initially thought there wasn’t, or that the problem was paradoxically defined, but it turns out that it’s perfectly valid and the answer is “Yes.”  See my first comment for an example of one such winning strategy.

This puzzle is similar to, but not the same as, the two envelopes paradox.  For more time-devouring reading, see Wikipedia’s List of Paradoxes.

Android Bug Reports, Songs, Rovers

The following is a partial list of bugs in Android (or associated software) which have impacted my actual life in some way.  Some may have been fixed since I last encountered them.

  • When navigation is muted, but you hit volume down just to be safe, it unmutes and starts blaring, waking other passengers on the bus.
  • Sometimes the GPS stops getting locks on satellites until the phone is rebooted.  (This may be related to the GPSStatus app, installed to avoid this kind of thing.)  To be fair, satellites are very small and far away, so you can hardly blame it for having trouble.
  • You can say “Call <contact name>”, and contact names+addresses show up in the navigation search with “navigate to” options, but you can’t say “Navgiate to <contact name>” like you can with all other major actions.  This means you have to type their full address to find out which exit to take from the traffic circle, and it’s really hard to type while holding the wheel steadily to the left like that.
  • Sometimes, when arranging home screen icons, you feel sad and you’re not sure why.
  • If you follow Google’s guidelines and have your own Jabber DNS records set up in a particular way on your Google Apps server, it screws up Google Talk’s ability to authenticate, which in turn (for some bizarre reason) causes all app downloads to hang midway through.  This is rare enough that the error messages are not Googleable.  But don’t worry, it’s easy to figure out as long as you’ve read all of the source code to Android and to Google’s servers, which is good practice when you get any product.
  • Sometimes the home screen icons all disappear.  The only thing which fixes this is a restart, going through five menus to kill the “Home screen” process, or crying quietly for hours until the icons start to feel sorry for you and come back.
  • Occasionally, when swiping the lock sideways to unlock the phone, the lock button images are rotated by 90 degrees.  This is probably connected to your Jabber server somehow.
  • Sometimes an Android user will think they hear someone say their name, but they’re not sure, so they say ‘Yes?’, but then it turns out it was something else.
  • Maps Navigation doesn’t cache your route, so if you drive through an area with bad cell coverage, it may silently stop notifying you of upcoming turns, and you won’t realize anything’s wrong until you discover you’ve taken NH Route 2 all the way to the White Mountains, which are very cold.
  • Latitude doesn’t update well on either end.  Often times, it will tell you someone was in a particular place “5 minutes ago”, and then 10 minutes later — after multiple restarts — it will still say it got that last update from them “5 minutes ago” even if they’re actively using Maps, so you have no idea whether they’ve left.  This can continue for hours as you slowly run out of air in the closet.
  • The phone occasionally locks on full brightness and turns off the keyboard backlight, which is fixed by un-checking and then re-checking the “automatic brightness” checkbox, also about five menus deep, which is hard to see when you’re squinting because the screen is so bright.  Fortunately, it never gets very dark where I live in Boston.  Unfortunately, it’s extremely dark at night in the White Mountains.
  • Navigation instructions silence things like podcasts players, but don’t pause them.  Thus, to hear that missing sentence or two, you have to switch over to the podcast app and hit ‘back’ several times, then swerve your car to avoid the stupid stop sign that shouldn’t be in the middle of the sidewalk to begin with.
  • Google Voice doesn’t do push notifications, so you often get voicemails quite some time after the caller leaves them, sometimes after you’ve already called them back.  This can make you call your doctor back again and have a really confusing conversation where you accidentally get a second prescription. Which you can then get filled and sell on the street. Come to think of it, this bug might be a feature.
  • If you stop for gas, sometimes navigation suspends, but doesn’t resume when you start driving again (or just disappears without notifying you), so you miss the upcoming turn and think you’re already on I-95, and by the time you discover your mistake and turn around you’ve lost enough time that you totally get to the conference too late to catch Richard Stallman doing his acapella Bad Romance cover which is the whole reason you paid the entry fee in the first place.
  • If you have several Google accounts, there’s no way to select which one to use for Google Checkout purchases.  It just picks whichever one it notices first, even if it’s one from an old Google account tied to your mom’s credit card, so now she might know that you bought the app to turn the phone into a vibrator.  (The app doesn’t really work since the vibrate motor is too weak, but the reviews by people who don’t understand its purpose are hilarious.)
  • If you have a secondary account that it’s decided to use for Checkout, and you want to delete it so the phone will use your primary one, you can’t.  Why?  Because that account is used for an essential service and so can’t be deleted.  As far as I can guess, that service is Google Checkout.  This bug report is dedicated to Joseph Heller.
  • Google Chrome in OS X follows the Apple guidelines concerning the green “+” button, and has it make the window no bigger than it deems necessary to fit the current page’s contents.  This annoys a lot of people. Since there are no OS X Chrome extensions, the best workaround seems to be registering and putting a giant <div> there.  Whenever you need to maximize, you load that page before hitting the green button.  (This bug is not, technically, related to Android in any way.)
  • There’s a Fantastic Contraption app on iPhone, but not Android. This is probably a feature rather than a bug, since it means Android users can spend time on things other than playing Fantastic Contraption.

These issues aside, I’m really happy with my Droid.  The screen is incredible, it’s much faster and easier to use than the G1, and I wouldn’t trade away the physical keyboard and persistent SSH for anything.

I just about fell out of my chair when I saw this.  Thank you to everyone who appeared in it, and to Olga and Elaine for doing whatever black magic they did to get them all together. <3. (Side note: I met Neil Gaiman once, back when I was in college, when his book tour came near my town. At the signing afterward, I talked awkwardly to him for what seemed like several minutes while he signed stuff for our group. Later, my friends pointed out that I was speaking too quietly for him to hear—or, in fact, to notice that I was standing there at all. I’ve been quietly embarrassed about that ever since and this video makes me feel better.)

If anyone is still sad about my Spirit comic, maybe this person’s rewrite – author unknown, found on a random image page – might provide some comfort.  Also, I got a couple of nice letters from members of the Spirit/Opportunity teams, and it’s very clear how proud they are of these little rovers. Next, Europa!

Books and Laptops and Bugs

Hey!  To anyone in the Boston area who wants to get an xkcd book signed, I’ll be doing a signing event at MIT this Thursday (the 17th).  It’s in Room 26-100 from 6:00 to 8:00 PM.  Details are here.  The event is free, and there will be books for sale there.  I’ve been pretty busy signing prints for the store to keep up with the massive flood of Christmas orders, but I wanted to get in a free non-charity event for people who wanted to get books signed but couldn’t afford tickets.

Speaking of which, here are pictures of the xkcd school nearing completion in Laos:

Thanks for all suggestions for the dedication plaque thing! Here’s what we ended up going with:

“Do not train children to learning by force and harshness, but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.” – Plato.

This school is a gift from the readers of XKCD, an internet comic strip. The world is full of exciting things to discover. We hope you find some of them.

Thanks, everyone.  <3

I posted a while back about getting an x200s laptop.  A big part of my decision was based on its durability — reviews touted the roll cage and carbon-fiber composite casing.  Sadly, it doesn’t seem to hold up very well in my daily use.  The case has cracked in five or six places, and some of these breaks have warped the frame.  It also just feels flimsy.  The related computers in the line (the x301, the x200, etc) are reportedly a lot sturdier.

Long and boring story short, I decided to repair and resell it, and use the money to get a 13-inch Macbook Pro.  It’s significantly heavier than the x200s, but I have a Droid now (which I quite like) and it’s helped remove a lot of my need for an ultraportable laptop.  I’ve been using an OS X desktop (a Mac Mini) as my main desktop machine for a couple years now, and I’m tired of rebooting my laptop to Windows when traveling to get to Photoshop (Wine et. al. don’t quite cut it).  The things I use Linux for (programming and playing with random toys/projects) are, on the other hand, easily done in VMs.  So for me, an OS X laptop seems like a logical choice, and so far I’ve been largely happy with it.

I love the multitouch trackpad (I’ve installed jitouch to expand the set of available gestures), and VMs seem to run nicely.  Supposedly the battery’s lifespan is much improved from the old 250 cycles.  If not, expect a post in about a year and a half about me blowing up my apartment while attempting to replace the battery with an off-brand one.  I may die, but at least I’ll prove the TSA wrong. This laptop has the bonus of being more powerful than my old desktop, which I can now resell to another friend (making the laptop my primary computer), and actually come out ahead on this whole affair.

So long as I’m blabbing about recent gadget experience: Amazon’s support/replacement for broken Kindles is amazing (“We’ll rush-ship you a new one immediately! Just send the old one back to us whenever. So sorry!”). The Droid is proving excellent, though it seems like each day brings a hilarious new Android bugs. For example, it turns out having certain kinds of DNS records for the Jabber server for your Google Apps account for your domain can, starting last week, through a complicated series of events, cause Market downloads to freeze and keep you from updating any apps on the phone.  That was a fun bug to try to track down, but it’s trumped in sheer weirdness by the Droid’s 24.5-day Autofocus bug, which is itself the weirdest bug story since The Case of the 500-Mile Email.

Signed Book Timeline

When I put my book up for sale, I thought it would be neat to offer the option of a signed copy to people who ordered in the first 24 hours. It was a popular option (more popular than we expected), and some people are wondering why they took so long to get there (most should have arrived last week, the last few American copies should have arrived by now, and overseas orders will be shipping outas soon as I finish signing them).  I had put a note on the order page warning that the signed copies would take longer to ship; if anyone’s interested in why they took as long as they did, here’s the story:

The regular copies were shipped immediately, and continue to ship on time.  The people who ship the books get them out fast — orders are generally shipped within 36 hours of when we get them.  The signed books started shipping out within a few days of the initial sale, and generally arrived promptly.  The books were being printed right up to the publication date, so I didn’t actually have a large stock of them beforehand.  Since I had no idea how popular the signed copies would be, I put up a note saying that the signed books might take longer to ship, since I’d be signing them after they were ordered.  This meant they had to be shipped to me first, before going to the shipping people.  It turned out (to my delight and horror) that they were extremely popular, and we had to raise the price just to make sure there wouldn’t be more orders than I had time to sign.

Since I was going on the book tour soon after the book went up for sale, we had the bulk of the books sent out to the reddit offices in San Francisco.  For the week after my book tour, I sat up late at one of their desks signing books (and working my way through the entire run of The West Wing).  I got all those signed by the end of the week (leaving an impressive callous on my right middle finger) and left the reddit office full of boxes for FedEx.  They picked them up Monday the 28th and took them to the shipping place in Virginia.  Because of the weight, they had to go ground, so they took all of that week to go there.  Those books shipped out within 36 hours of arriving, so they should have arrived late last week.

I got back to Boston, and later that week the next set of books arrived there.  I signed a large set of those, which finished off the US orders, and they went to the distribution office for shipping out sometime last week.  For the last week, I’ve been signing boxes of mainly European orders (followed by Australia and other overseas, which take longer to ship), and I should be finishing those up in the next handful of days.  Then there’s a four-or-five day delay as they’re sent to the shipping people (too heavy to send by anything but FedEx Ground), and they’ll go out then.  I apologize to anyone whose signed books took longer than they expected to arrive.  If you have any questions or problems regarding your order, email

Thank you so much to everyone who ordered a book.  If you’re interested, there are some pictures of the xkcd school site in Laos over on the BreadPig blog.