⏎other ramblings

A very stupid joke resulting in a very silly news cycle

I was just reminded of an event I inadvertently caused. I found some screenshots I took of a few websites. The websites all touched on a joke I made. I wrote it on a subreddit dedicated to finding comedy in programming topics: /r/ProgrammerHumor.

I was suprised to find that the joke was taken out of context from /r/ProgrammerHumor and used as a real explanation to a real problem. This is a story of how misinformation can spread.

Screenshots of various websites reporting on the joke.
Some websites talking about the joke


The video game Pokémon Sword and Shield was released in 2019 to a very hyped world. Expectations were not managed. The game made a lot of money in presales and the world hated the game.

People were having a lot of fun ridiculing the game. That typical maniacal frenzy was formed. Strangers on the internet were bonding while sharpening their pitchforks. Of course, the news was there to document the carnage and make a buck or two.

Then... a wild software bug appeared in the midst of the frenzy.

Tweet of the original Reddit article
Tweet of the original Reddit article

my headspace

I was very early in my professional software development career at the time. A lot of the concepts that folks with a computer science degree take for granted seemed totally magical to me. They still do.

At work, we needed to save some files uploaded by the user of our websites. All the files went into a big folder. Some errors were occurring if the user uploaded a file with the same name as a previously uploaded file. To fix this, we saved the files with a filename as a random UUID and kept track of the original filename in our database.

This worked, but it didn't really fix the problem. It just made the problem incredibly improbable. The odds of two UUIDs being generated with the same values on the same system is very low. How low? Well, say you had a bunch of kindergartners at school. The first thing they do when they get to school is randomly put their backpacks into a tray in a cubby. They can't really see the cubby because they're too short. They're too young to remember a cubby assignment. How many trays does your cubby need to prevent two kindergartners from accidentally colliding their backpacks? How about a 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456-tray capacity cubby? That oughta do it.

A whole lot of very important software in the world is built on this concept of improbability. We use this binary explosion of space all the time knowing that the odds of collision are minuscule. Some systems most probably won't have a collision happen even if they ran from now until the heat death of the universe.

Except it could still happen. You usually get some hand-waiving from software engineers when you say this, but... collisions could still happen. Google found one.

I find the absurdity of this concept intrinsically hilarious. This was all very fresh on my mind when I saw that Reddit post or /r/ProgrammerHumor titled: How do you even begin to debug something like this.

the joke

I was still waking up and half asleep. I was brain dead. This is the setting in which all Reddit comments are created. So, I made my own comment.

The thought of having this randomness break and being the poor developer dealing with the ramifications of that made me smile. I created a completely fictional world in which this impossible was made possible. I ended the joke with an equally impossible and absurd alternative reality.

Pokémon sends a network discovery packet to each device on port 26037. Roku also listen on that port for LAN based updates so that multiple devices on the same network can update each other. It was an obvious decision. Saved Roku around a quarter million dollars in CDN traffic costs. Roku is popular in the commercial space where it's often used as a media source to control sometimes 100s of TVs on the same network. It just so happens that Pokémon's network discovery packet shares the exact same bytes as Roku's signed bytecode to reboot.

The odds are astronomically low. We could have wound up with an alien planet full of Justin Timberlake clones, but the universe decided this was our colossal fluke.


Using the term "joke" is perhaps a bit aggrandizing. I'd say it was more of a slightly funny hypothetical. I thought it would be comical if our universe's moment of breaking wound up being "used" on a Pokémon game. I empathized with the poor developers at Roku and Nintendo trying to figure it out.

internet response

I forgot about it. I was surprised when I looked at it a week or so later. People took the joke as truth. There was some discussion on Hacker News trying to make sense of it, but mainly they seemed to just be annoyed by it. The Verge mentioned it as theory, but the internet game-of-telephone caused their sister-site Polygon to use wording that seemed to state it as fact. There are a few other sources that touched on it; CNET brought it up and GameSpot came up on a search for "port 26037".

Roku seemed to have pushed out a fix for the real issue pretty quickly. Most importantly, the story seemed to have died within 24 hours of it starting. It was old news by the time I noticed. Everyone was on to some other aspect of the Pokémon game they could ceremoniously foam at the mouth over. So I just sort of slinked away.

The 'shifty-eyes' meme
A depiction of me seeing the response


This rambling has no point. It's not an apology. I don't think I've done anything wrong. If someone reports about the most improbable thing in the universe happening, then you ought to check on sources. Maybe first see if it is written in a subreddit where jokes are written. It's not meant to bash news outlets over journalistic integrity. The internet is a difficult thing to document. It's not meant to justify my joke. If you don't think it was funny... OK. Depending on the day I'm sure I'd agree with you.

"If something is going to happen to me, I want to be there." I guess I just wanted to share my observations on it. I found it fascinating. It makes me think of the fragility of information: what we think we know and how we got started thinking we know something. It all feels a bit fickle. Like systems built upon a foundation of randomness.