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.  ❤

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.

172 replies on “Books and Laptops and Bugs”

  1. @Popup

    If you read the FAQ (linked at the top of the story’s page), your concern is addressed by the author. Apparently some liberty was taken in the telling of the story.


  2. Popup, your objection is question #11 in the 500 Mile Email FAQ (of course there is a FAQ):


  3. @popup: The teller of the 500-mile story addresses these technical nitpicks in his FAQ. Long story short, he says, “It was five years ago, I don’t remember every detail, but this really happened, and the way I tell it captures the spirit of how it happened.” So yes, the timeout probably was higher than 3ms, but explaining all these things would make it hard for lesser techies like myself to follow.


  4. Nice job with the school. It’s cool to see that something like a webcomic can help make a real mark on the world.


  5. Kindle support really is amazing. When I needed mine replaced under warranty they sent me a shipping label online immediately to put on the next day box of the replacement kindle. Then they reimbursed me for that shipping that they paid. They gave me $8 for a very quick warranty replacement. Best warranty service ever.


  6. Aw man, I bought an x200s based on this blog (and other careful research).

    I hope my batch with the rollcage can still hold up after six months.


  7. I love the (de)bug stories…I’m the dev who usually gets the triage assignments and I love nothing more than digging into problems like that.

    My favorite was finding out the hard way why we ran a digital pixel clock through an amplifier identical to the one we were using on the analog signal we were sampling. Removing the amplifier changed the timing at maybe the microsecond level but it was enough to make our measurements inaccurate.

    Plus it gave me an opportunity to say it’s a hardware problem.


  8. I’m guessing you get this every time you do a graph comic, which is probably part of why you keep doing them, but: the gravity well comic is superb. Good work.


  9. Just thought I’d let you know I love the Sirens of Titan reference in your latest comic. Too lazy to make a forum account.


  10. I love it when you make a comic that teaches me something about the universe I didn’t know. That explains it in such a way that I immediately grasp it, and can admire the new knowledge I’ve been given.

    Thank you. You are the kind of teacher I wish I had a decade ago.

    [Tinsel French] Captcha has added a new item to the list of sexual fetishes (


  11. Someone trolled Wikipedia with the Darth Vader autoerotic asphyxiation joke; got a screenshot of it. 🙂


  12. I want you to know that literally four websites before I checked XKCD today I looked up autoerotic asphyxiation on Wikipedia. I was researching John Gacy.
    I almost died when I saw it on Vader’s computer!


  13. Timely comments about the x200s, I was considering purchasing one. Now I’m re-evaluating, thinking about the x200 instead. Out of curiosity–just how hard on the x200s are you? I’m generally pretty gentle with mine, but they take some knocks on planes.

    Also, can you describe how it “feels” flimsy? I’ve read about some excessive flex issues that some people have had with the x200s.

    What about other x200s users—have you had comparable problems?

    My current (primary) machine is a Dell XPS m1330.



  14. How come the Earth on the left (in the gravity well comic) has a different well depth than the expanded Earth on the right? Using mean Earth radius of 6371 km, and mass of 5.9736 * 10^24 kg I get the value on the right (~6379 km). So what’s up with the 5478 km?


  15. I love that you are using some of the proceeds of the book to help build a school! I’d love it BETTER if you told us more about the school! 😀


  16. Just this morning I was thinking I wish I could be a web-comic author for a living, and how much more awesome that would be than what I am doing now. And then I read that you built a school in Laos. You are outstanding.


  17. @popup: one more overlooked hole in the story: even if the signal was moving at c, the effective radius would need to be half whatever he calculated. The remote server’s reply would need to come back, perhaps not even routed by the same physical path, within the 3 ms interval. So the real number must have been closer to 20 milliseconds for this to be true.

    It’s still a great story.

    @Randall: tweaking the title text must have taken some doing. Maybe next should be a graph comparing the actual value of a number with how many letters it takes to spell out the number, or how much ink it takes to write it.


  18. This isn’t really in response to the blag (actually, it isn’t at all in response to the blag), I just wanted to mention how extremely amazing the comic today is, because everyone else I know who reads xkcd is on the FIRST team at my school. Wanna come to our regional and let us all talk about how amazing you are? =]


  19. 3 things Randall :

    ! 1 !! :

    Don’t let the TSA naked body scan you with x-ray level radiation. Can you imagine the horrid stuff that would happen if that got out on the internet ?

    @ 2 @@ ! :

    I love your latest strip.
    It’s the definitive satire of the illiterate trogdolytes who think 19 cavemen with box cutters made NORAD stand down, faked FBI training, learned the plans beforehand, and planted the ‘spolisives and the ” lone gunman ” plot. Not to mention engineering all those previous plots and then declassifying some of them.

    !! ### !0olololol ! : American public schools and the whole performance-based system are education institutes like a zoo is a cocktail party. They are naught more than a machine for stripping away all structured knowledge and sense of reality ( 2+2=5 ???? ) and pounding your knowledge into the scope and shape of a good little socialist debt slave.

    much ❤ squared to you and yours.

    25 $ U.S. could educate an African child for a year, last time I checked. The dollar's going to crap, though. They're doing to you what they did in the third world. Get ready for the boot to stomp on the human face forever until we all die. You can kiss your business and your nose good-bye.
    Seriously, the way things are going, once this implodes, the collapse of '08 will look like an Alice's Adventures In Wonderland tea party.

    Money out of nothing is still inherently nothing .


  20. BTW, the mouseover on comic 689 should read:
    ‘Pool on the roof must have a leak’
    ‘Pool on the roof must’ve sprung a leak.’

    …sorry, but I know far too much of that film off by heart 🙂


  21. does the US education system squish the spirits of children and brainwash them? Yeah, pretty much… but I completely reject the idea that there is some kind of liberal bias or ‘socialist agenda’ there. at least there sure wasn’t back when I was in school… i very clearly recall several teachers passing off right wing rhetoric as ‘fact’ and don’t recall anyone trying to make me into a socialist.

    Just sayin’.


  22. You gave him and his much less than nine?
    How ungenerous.

    Also, repeated punctuation generally takes away from the effectiveness of your ranting, although the capitalization was a classy touch. Overall, excellent trolling. I give you 8/10


  23. I would love to make a meaningful comment aside from saying three cheers for the school! Hip, hip, and hooray (minus the “and”). Linux in VM for programming gets a cool++ on my scale of 1 to awesome, and jitouch seems excellent.


  24. just want to say “thanks … !!” with your comics, you bring a smile on my face..even when I’m down ..


  25. I would like to commend you and the Breadpig organization on the success of the Laotian school. I am proud to have contributed in some small way to the construction by purchasing your book. I noticed that you expressed displeasure at having to boot Windows to use Photoshop. An alternative would be GIMP. This program is essentially Photoshop and it has versions for every major OS. It is also FOSS, so, you know, thats a bonus.


  26. *whine* Mine too, Phaedrus… Mine too. I’m just … going to busy myself dusting off some old tech and showing it a whole lot of love.


  27. So that’s what Wall*E would’ve been like if it was done by Darren Aronofsky (Requiem Of A Dream) instead.


  28. The “Spirit” comic did make me slightly sad, but I can imagine that what you wrote would be what Spirit has been thinking.

    The majority of my comment has to do with the comic “Retro Virus”. I read it today having just called Dell Tech Support about my laptop’s 500 GB hard drive. At 3am the previous day, it decided to stop working. It booted with a Blue Screen of Death and froze my installation of Win 7 after getting 75% of the way done. A Pre-Boot System Diagnostic returned errors 0146 and 0142, so Dell is sending me a new hard drive!

    So I found that comic to be particularly funny in a sick way.

    I’ve always enjoyed xkcd ever since one of my friends told me about it. Thanks for a website that brightens my long class days at Oregon State!


  29. #695 is just sad.

    This is the first time I have ever clicked on your site. I read/enjoy the comic strips. I am impressed with the school. Congratulations!

    Concerning the 500 mail email, there was a UC-Berkeley (I think) researcher who tracked down some hackers in Germany by figuring the times the system was being attacked and determining that it was humans doing the typing (they made typo’s) and deduced the times and then calculated distances from the West Coast. He got famous for this work in the early to mid 90’s. I cannot for the life of me, remember his name or the book he wrote about his involvement in this case. This is WAY before the birth of spambots, etc.


  30. Technically, a space elevator would not require an anchor to earth. Really, cutting that cable would do nothing.

    I’m surprised that you made that mistake!


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