Thursday, January the 27th, 2005

There was some confusion earlier as to what I was trying to say in those plots, so here’s an explanation. This acts as an answer to comments and e-mails, and is part of a series of posts where I delve into aspects of my life in grad school.

Plot 1, for the ideal drone, is sort of obvious. A task is given, and the worker starts on it right away, and finishes (reaches 1.0 on the “fraction of task complete” ordinate) well before the deadline. As any ideal drone ought to.

Plot 2, the one for the real drone, is most representative of reality, as the name suggests. The worker doesn’t do anything for a while, and as time moves along (s)he slowly begins to start (because (s)he gets tense/feels guilty/fears repercussion of missed deadlines/has some sense of responsibility/…) on the task. Very slow at first, this pace of operation increases as the deadline draws nearer. Eventually, the task gets done with a little time to spare, in case minor changes need to be made on it before the final deadline.

Like I said, this is the kind of thing most normal people would do. The “deadline” seems to act like the stick-end of a carrot and stick motivator scheme. It works for most people, obviously. If you refer to Anita’s comment, what she described was an extreme variant of this curve. A sort of limit where the curve tends to a steep step.

OK, and then there is the third curve, the one that describes how I do things. Primarily, the thing to realize is I am not particularly driven by “deadlines” nor do the specifics of the task themselves matter to me. A normal person’s “end” is the completion of the task. My end is not. The task is just a means for me to learn something along the way. It in itself means little to me. I start, like the good boy I am, as soon as the task is specified. But, unfortunately, I don’t do what it entails, but any random thing I choose. There in lies the problem. Initially, the curve looks like it’s going toward 1.0 on the ordinate, but before you know it I’ve branched off into my tangential paths going about doing whatever it is I deem useful and potentially relevant, or just fun. (e.g. I’m asked to solve a problem, say, find the value of this field at this time. I’ll wander off into things like whether the theory governing this class of equations fails if time flowed backward. Seemingly random, but sometimes profound information can be gained by conscious lateral thought. Which, to the casual observer will appear to be me slacking off.)

This is what I mean by negative work. Of course, once I get all my grounds covered, all my little tangential bits (which take a lot more time and effort and usually are far more insightful than the ideal drone’s linear path) begin to add up to what looks like me going to complete the task. Of course, since the task and deadline meant little, I frequently miss deadlines, and post deadlines end up doing a lot more than what was originally asked for, because now it matters to me — I’m having fun learning.

Therefore, if you’re looking for someone to responsibly carry out a task, I am a huge potential risk. I don’t respond to order or structure, I need a lot of leeway to get going, I will do just about anything along the way and I don’t even guarantee completion.

All I say is, given this framework, I can come up with something better than you’d imagined, but I might not either. I might just be wasting your time.

Totally unrelated, if you still aren’t hooked on Coupling, here is a sort of representative sample dialogue that might change your mind.

“I need breasts with brains. I don’t mean individual brains, obviously… I mean, not a brain each. You know, I like intelligent women, but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere… I think breast brains would be over-egging the woman pudding. ‘


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2 Responses to “The task and the drone – II”

  1. pul| says:

    Your approach is cool. I like it. It isn’t funny to me.

  2. wahgnube says:

    I will elucidate things as the series continues. In itself, it isn’t probably amusing if you don’t see it from my point of view.

    When you’re a person who follows such a path, me for example, and you live in a world where everyone around assumes otherwise, things start getting entertaining.


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