1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

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kakos
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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby kakos » Mon Apr 29, 2013 4:44 pm UTC

Someone should make a site to auto-generate this chart with custom time periods along the axes, calculated over a custom number of years, and not rounded. I would do it, but I'm lazy.

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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby airdrik » Mon Apr 29, 2013 4:45 pm UTC

XKCD: wasting your time by showing you how much time you could have gained by not reading XKCD since .. (well, at least since http://what-if.xkcd.com/22/ and the comic which has been mentioned about making a generic condiment retrieval system. I don't remember if there were any others)

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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby lgw » Mon Apr 29, 2013 5:44 pm UTC

Dxlightning wrote:It's a really cool chart but I notice it treats an hour in the future as though it's as valuable as an hour in the present. The economist in me cringes at that because, as everyone has probably experienced through procrastination, we never value our future time as much as we value our present time (like money). There is always some form of discount, generally at a financial interest rate - the amount of time expended should be the net present value of time saved.

So for something that saves me 1 day per year for 5 years, I would be willing to spend:

1 + 1/(1+r) + 1/(1+r)^2 + 1/(1+r)^3 + 1/(1+r)^4

Where R is my respective discount for how much I value time less in the future. If that is say 3%, I would be willing to spend 4.717 days (4 days, 5 hours, 44 minutes, 9.6 seconds in 8-hour workday terms) to increase efficiency by one day per year.

If we're talking 100% efficiency, 5 days is correct because realistically it's a human constraint that we impose ourselves to value future time less than present time. But from a present value perspective, the discount should be there to maximize utility.


There's no inflation of my time, so no need for a discount rate in that regard. However, I think there is a need to risk-adjust! (Lest we learn nothing from recent banking follies.) The discount rate should include my mortality rate, and the chance that I won't be doing that task in the future.

I recently moved, and had to make a serious mental effort to stop optimizing many household tasks where the payoff was longer than my planned departure time. It felt ... odd. "No, I shouldn't spend time to organize that shelf - it's all going in a box in a month."
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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby ps.02 » Mon Apr 29, 2013 8:13 pm UTC

People say they should make sure their boss sees this chart, but for me it's the other way around. My bosses do appreciate that I boost my productivity through automation, they don't always appreciate the lost hours where I take this a little too far.

Which brings me to the need for a discount rate for net present value of time. In a work setting, time on the clock very much is money and needs to be discounted accordingly. If anything, since my company is small but growing, time should be discounted more, because opportunity costs per man-hour will go down over time.

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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby fuda » Mon Apr 29, 2013 8:26 pm UTC

It would be better to convert this chart into a more memorable rule of thumb or two. "It's worth spending a day to save a minute daily!" "It's worth 5 days to improve your 50x daily task by 5 seconds!" And then operate off the rule of thumb with some math in your head if you need to convert it to some other durations.

Also, I absolutely would want to do discounting. It doesn't usually make sense to spend 6 days to improve something that takes 5 years to see the result for - you might not continue with that task for that long, unless it's a fundamental task or skill of some sort. A heavy discount rate would be more comfortable, perhaps somewhere between 10-20%.

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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby xtifr » Tue Apr 30, 2013 2:25 am UTC

Yeah, the across-five-years thing makes this seem essentially useless. If it's something I do once a year, then there's a huge chance I'm going to be doing it for a lot longer than five years. Checking my ~/bin directory, the oldest timestamp I see is 1998. Not only have I been using that script for a lot more than five years, but the machine I'm running it on now is whole lot faster than the one it was originally written for, meaning it's actually saving more time per invocation now than when I first created it. Which is another flaw...assuming the time shaved off is a flat rate.
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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby hanoc » Tue Apr 30, 2013 7:18 am UTC

I can't believe nobody posted this in response to the ALT text: youtube / TdIRrmNN_CQ
^^

(can't post links, newbie, you'll manage though)

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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby orthogon » Tue Apr 30, 2013 8:04 am UTC

lgw wrote: The discount rate should include my mortality rate, [...] I had to make a serious mental effort to stop optimizing many household tasks where the payoff was longer than my planned departure time. It felt ... odd

Reading the second statement with the first still fresh in my mind made me think you were talking about your final departure date, to the great forum thread in the sky. I was relieved to read the bit about boxes and to notice that it was a "planned" rather than "expected" departure date. (Unless of course you have booked a one way ticket to Switzerland).
xtifr wrote:... and orthogon merely sounds undecided.

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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby JustDoug » Tue Apr 30, 2013 3:25 pm UTC

mhagger wrote:Great table, but I have to disagree with the numbers:

It seems like the calculation assumes 24-hour days and 365-day years, so the conversion from time saved t and frequency of task f to time worth spending T is

T = t * f * 5 years

with the straight unit conversion

...

in which case the chart looks quite different. For example, for a 1-hour task done weekly, one should invest 16 days (if considering waking hours) or 1 month (if considering working hours), rather than the 10 days indicated by the chart.


No. You're figuring time spent out of the entire day. Randall is writing about only the time spent on the task itself.

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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby manzuc » Tue Apr 30, 2013 3:36 pm UTC

honestly, whether the numbers are exactly accurate or not, this gives me a good rough order of magnitude. I write scripts and VBA infrequently to automate engineering tasks, and always wonder if I'm blowing too much time twerking the code. Sure, I may twerk the table itself, as others have suggested, but it is close enough as is. Thanks Randall, this is probably the most useful comic I've seen.

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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby Skipp » Tue Apr 30, 2013 5:04 pm UTC

Two things, Randall didn't take into account the fact that practicing a task will generally increase the quality of the result, even if you are focused on time-efficiency. This means that you should still be willing to spend a bit more time than stated in the table. For example, when cutting vegetables, if you practice cutting vegetables for 1 day (I assume daily and 5 mins shaved) you will get much better at creating uniform sized pieces, on top of the benefit of not cutting yourself as often. With a vast majority of tasks, these types of positive externalities exist.

Also, when the practice times are in the order of months, or spread out, your results will be skewed, because your skill level isn't binary over that time. As you practice, your skill will increase somewhat continuously, and (depending on whether or not the practice time is included in the 5 years) your max time spent will be skewed.

What would be interesting to see is the ideal proportion of time spent performing that task to improving it.

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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby rmsgrey » Tue Apr 30, 2013 5:15 pm UTC

But you still benefit from practice just from doing the routine task routinely - you get more benefit from practice by doing it more frequently, but you also spend more time doing the task overall - if you need to chop up the winter's supply of firewood, then it'll take a similar total amount of time whether you chop for ten hours over the course of a day, or chop for half an hour in the evening every day for three weeks.

My reading of the comic is that it's not talking about how you schedule your time spent chopping, but about how much time you should spend sharpening your axe, or preparing your workspace, or on other ancillary tasks that have the potential to improve your wood-chopping performance, but don't actually get any wood chopped directly...

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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby sylvos » Tue Apr 30, 2013 5:36 pm UTC

As to that alt-text, someone should tell Randall about the sunk cost fallacy.

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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby philipquarles » Tue Apr 30, 2013 9:23 pm UTC

Dxlightning wrote:It's a really cool chart but I notice it treats an hour in the future as though it's as valuable as an hour in the present. The economist in me cringes at that because, as everyone has probably experienced through procrastination, we never value our future time as much as we value our present time (like money). There is always some form of discount, generally at a financial interest rate - the amount of time expended should be the net present value of time saved.

So for something that saves me 1 day per year for 5 years, I would be willing to spend:

1 + 1/(1+r) + 1/(1+r)^2 + 1/(1+r)^3 + 1/(1+r)^4

Where R is my respective discount for how much I value time less in the future. If that is say 3%, I would be willing to spend 4.717 days (4 days, 5 hours, 44 minutes, 9.6 seconds in 8-hour workday terms) to increase efficiency by one day per year.

If we're talking 100% efficiency, 5 days is correct because realistically it's a human constraint that we impose ourselves to value future time less than present time. But from a present value perspective, the discount should be there to maximize utility.


Yeah. I'm not sure how to calculate it, and I think the yield curve probably behaves unpredictably, but there's definitely such a thing as the time value of time.

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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby Platypodes » Wed May 01, 2013 1:14 am UTC

Yes! I'm way ahead with the few hours I spent installing an instant hot water dispenser to save the step of boiling water on the stove. (Tea 1-3 times a day, teakettle step at least 20 seconds even if you don't count the water-heating time which can be spent on other things.)

I never would have calculated it, but it's satisfying to know. :)
videogamesizzle wrote:so, uh, seen any good arbitrary, high numbers lately?

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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby dwhite21787 » Wed May 01, 2013 3:44 pm UTC

Does this take Moore's Law into account?

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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby thevicente » Thu May 02, 2013 2:04 am UTC


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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby Pfhorrest » Thu May 02, 2013 5:15 am UTC

In that particular case, I would be surprise that "worrying a lot" actually constitutes a significant time sink, if Randall's pathfinding optimization comes as naturally as my own. For me, I think first "walk straight at where I'm going", and then "oh right there's a building in the way, ok, walk straight to the nearest edge of the building in the way and THEN walk straight at where I'm going". It would take more mental effort to constrain myself to inefficient but "formally approved" paths than it would to just follow the path of least resistance.

I do find myself getting annoyed if I have to make many frequent adjustments from my otherwise straight path, and if the obstacles are under my control, I will optimize the layout to eliminate that annoyance. But again it hardly takes any effort: "argh this thing is always in my way, put it over there where it's out of the way". Done.
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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby Fire Brns » Thu May 02, 2013 7:52 am UTC

The point A Point B examples are horribly oversimplified. Optimization really relies on not being optimized and testing at the boundaries long enough to understand how to optimize.

"Oh I need to get over there, I can take the curved road or just beeline across the field. Well crap, I just stepped in a gopher tortoise hole, twisted my ankle and will experience pain and reduced walking speed for the next few weeks. Really reconsidering that 12 seconds I saved." True story...
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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby microbe74 » Thu May 02, 2013 9:48 pm UTC

hanoc wrote:I can't believe nobody posted this in response to the ALT text: youtube / TdIRrmNN_CQ
^^

(can't post links, newbie, you'll manage though)


Beat me to it. That was my first thought on reading the ALT text too.

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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby addams » Fri May 03, 2013 12:54 am UTC

Vrishna wrote:I really can't think of any routine task that I do 5 times per day and which has the potential of being shortened by one hour. Can anyone?

Do you pee five time a day?
Seems to be a Good number for voiding the urinary badder.
One hour per Year? Sure. (Even I can do the Math on That one.)

One hour per what kind of duration?
Can you cut an hour off pee time in a month?
Do the Math. Does it work?

Pee Faster? I was on such a tight time schedule, at one time.
I was yelled at to, 'pee faster'. You?
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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby wildcardjack » Sun May 05, 2013 8:31 pm UTC

The key here isn't about the cost benefit for you to save time in your life, but to generate a cost/benefit ratio that can improve society.

Should your town spend $100k to upgrade the traffic lights so people aren't stopping at each one on the main drag? Well, we could shave 30 seconds off the travel time for ten thousand people twice a day, so...

Or the flipside, how TSA lines cost three lifetimes a day.

And if you want to contribute to society this might also apply to your project. If I could think of something in my life that still needs time saving that wasn't the equivalent of more than $50 per hour time saved I'd be working on turning it into a product and marketing it. Hmm, I think I could run a trash valet service for apartment complexes using highschool and college athletes, gets economy of scale benefits, make it a $7 a week service for daily pickups + $1 per flight of stairs above the ground. If my business saved a minute a day across a thousand units we'd free up three years, for the cost of $1.8 million dollars.

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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby leetcat » Fri May 10, 2013 10:56 pm UTC

kakos wrote:Someone should make a site to auto-generate this chart with custom time periods along the axes, calculated over a custom number of years, and not rounded. I would do it, but I'm lazy.


This is done, a website that can calculate any variation of time savings, it is very simple and can calculate very fast. Most of it was written in Javascript. [url]c.albert-thompson dot com/xkcd/[/url]

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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby vvn » Sun May 12, 2013 2:55 am UTC

Pfhorrest wrote:In that particular case, I would be surprise that "worrying a lot" actually constitutes a significant time sink, if Randall's pathfinding optimization comes as naturally as my own. For me, I think first "walk straight at where I'm going", and then "oh right there's a building in the way, ok, walk straight to the nearest edge of the building in the way and THEN walk straight at where I'm going". It would take more mental effort to constrain myself to inefficient but "formally approved" paths than it would to just follow the path of least resistance.

I do find myself getting annoyed if I have to make many frequent adjustments from my otherwise straight path, and if the obstacles are under my control, I will optimize the layout to eliminate that annoyance. But again it hardly takes any effort: "argh this thing is always in my way, put it over there where it's out of the way". Done.

I am reminded of an article many years ago. It told of a school built and occupied, but without any sidewalks/walkways. The builders just put down grass. They came back a year later and paved anywhere there were dirt paths worn into the grass. It always seemed an excellent way of doing things.

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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby Klear » Sun May 12, 2013 12:32 pm UTC

vvn wrote:
Pfhorrest wrote:In that particular case, I would be surprise that "worrying a lot" actually constitutes a significant time sink, if Randall's pathfinding optimization comes as naturally as my own. For me, I think first "walk straight at where I'm going", and then "oh right there's a building in the way, ok, walk straight to the nearest edge of the building in the way and THEN walk straight at where I'm going". It would take more mental effort to constrain myself to inefficient but "formally approved" paths than it would to just follow the path of least resistance.

I do find myself getting annoyed if I have to make many frequent adjustments from my otherwise straight path, and if the obstacles are under my control, I will optimize the layout to eliminate that annoyance. But again it hardly takes any effort: "argh this thing is always in my way, put it over there where it's out of the way". Done.

I am reminded of an article many years ago. It told of a school built and occupied, but without any sidewalks/walkways. The builders just put down grass. They came back a year later and paved anywhere there were dirt paths worn into the grass. It always seemed an excellent way of doing things.


Yeah, they make parks like that in Finland. Scandinavia is cool.

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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby rmsgrey » Tue May 14, 2013 5:29 pm UTC

Klear wrote:
vvn wrote:
Pfhorrest wrote:In that particular case, I would be surprise that "worrying a lot" actually constitutes a significant time sink, if Randall's pathfinding optimization comes as naturally as my own. For me, I think first "walk straight at where I'm going", and then "oh right there's a building in the way, ok, walk straight to the nearest edge of the building in the way and THEN walk straight at where I'm going". It would take more mental effort to constrain myself to inefficient but "formally approved" paths than it would to just follow the path of least resistance.

I do find myself getting annoyed if I have to make many frequent adjustments from my otherwise straight path, and if the obstacles are under my control, I will optimize the layout to eliminate that annoyance. But again it hardly takes any effort: "argh this thing is always in my way, put it over there where it's out of the way". Done.

I am reminded of an article many years ago. It told of a school built and occupied, but without any sidewalks/walkways. The builders just put down grass. They came back a year later and paved anywhere there were dirt paths worn into the grass. It always seemed an excellent way of doing things.


Yeah, they make parks like that in Finland. Scandinavia is cool.


Simple, effective, and requires a complete shift in mindset from the conventional approach - primarily the idea of spending a year teaching in an "unfinished" school building rather than having entirely separate construction and use phases, but also the separation into two linked-but-separate jobs for the builders.

The only drawback comes when the dirt paths are idiosyncratic to a particular usage pattern of the buildings, and that changes - for example, if no-one has Science and English classes in consecutive lessons during the sample year, there will be no direct traffic between the two locations.

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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby Klear » Tue May 14, 2013 5:46 pm UTC

rmsgrey wrote:
Klear wrote:
vvn wrote:I am reminded of an article many years ago. It told of a school built and occupied, but without any sidewalks/walkways. The builders just put down grass. They came back a year later and paved anywhere there were dirt paths worn into the grass. It always seemed an excellent way of doing things.


Yeah, they make parks like that in Finland. Scandinavia is cool.


Simple, effective, and requires a complete shift in mindset from the conventional approach - primarily the idea of spending a year teaching in an "unfinished" school building rather than having entirely separate construction and use phases, but also the separation into two linked-but-separate jobs for the builders.

The only drawback comes when the dirt paths are idiosyncratic to a particular usage pattern of the buildings, and that changes - for example, if no-one has Science and English classes in consecutive lessons during the sample year, there will be no direct traffic between the two locations.


Well, the way I hear it, it was just a park. They at first put grass everywhere, then made paths in places where people go the most. I remember that every time I see a worn unpaved path through a park.

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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby WriteBrainedJR » Tue May 14, 2013 11:32 pm UTC

wildcardjack wrote:The key here isn't about the cost benefit for you to save time in your life, but to generate a cost/benefit ratio that can improve society.

I believe in the maxim "pay yourself first." I value time very much, and money shockingly little. So at least for me, the application is absolutely the cost benefit for me to save time in my life.

I would agree that this sort of analysis has more than one application.

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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby swoldfield » Tue May 21, 2013 3:20 pm UTC

Just so you know, you've basically described organic composition of human capital. If you instead were creating a machine then it would be regular organic composition of capital. This process is how an economy free of restrictions allocates labour between production for consumption and production for capital.

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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby WriteBrainedJR » Tue May 21, 2013 9:19 pm UTC

swoldfield wrote:Just so you know, you've basically described organic composition of human capital. If you instead were creating a machine then it would be regular organic composition of capital. This process is how an economy free of restrictions allocates labour between production for consumption and production for capital.

I really have no idea what that means. I don't do economics. The whole valuing money shockingly little thing.

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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby Copper Bezel » Tue May 21, 2013 10:45 pm UTC

Right, but the comic really does explain the concept, just using terms of time and labor instead of using terms of money. So you actually do understand what ze wrote, just not the words used, which was zir point.
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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby swoldfield » Wed May 22, 2013 7:22 pm UTC

Organic composition of capital is the (unfashionable) idea that capital* (tools, machines and buildings) is really just stored labour, as capital depreciates it is releasing that labour into production. So in the comic, the Author describes a situation when his/her output can be either devoted to production for consumption** or production of a better process that will increase production (for consumption) in the long run. So the Author (assuming perfect rationality and that immediate consumption needs are met) will devote as much time to developing new processes as generates a net increase in long run output.

Its worth noting that the reason you don't hear about this obvious little nugget is because it makes it impossible to include unimproved land in a definition of capital, which pisses off a lot of very powerful groups of people.

*In this case we are referring to Human Capital which is knowledge.
**The analogy of a consumption/production dilemma is not perfect, the Author may be engaged in the production of capital goods to be sold, but even in this case we can say the the Author is really producing his/her money income and the analogy once again becomes whole.

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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby nitePhyyre » Fri May 24, 2013 8:39 pm UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:Right, but the comic really does explain the concept, just using terms of time and labor instead of using terms of money. So you actually do understand what theyze wrote, just not the words used, which was theirzir point.
There already exists words for what you are trying to convey. If you are going to make yourself look ridiculous by reinventing a perfectly round wheel in a vain, misguided attempt at being PC, couldn't you at least invent a less ugly bastardization of the english language? I'm certain that you could throw he/she/his/hers/they/their/it and random consonants into a bag and come out with something more 'english-y' than 'ze' or 'zir'. Something that looks better and rolls off the tongue so that it at least stands a chance of gaining traction...

On topic: As everyone else has been saying this needs more. At least for automating computer tasks, the person creating the automation often isn't the person receiving the benefits of automation. Often, the time of the person creating the automation is worth a lot more than the time of the person who will use the automated system.

ex: One automation will save 2 people who make minimum wage 30 seconds 7 times a day, one person who makes 1.5 times 45 seconds twice a day and someone who makes 5 time minimum wage 60 seconds once a week. If I make 1.75 times minimum wage how long will this automation take to implement before it becomes a waste of time? I don't know and if I want to avoid the trap of the alt-text, i never will!
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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby Copper Bezel » Fri May 24, 2013 9:57 pm UTC

Continuing the off-topic bit:

nitePhyyre wrote:There already exists words for what you are trying to convey.

They're too plural and not pretentious enough.

If you are going to make yourself look ridiculous by reinventing a perfectly round wheel in a vain, misguided attempt at being PC, couldn't you at least invent a less ugly bastardization of the english language? I'm certain that you could throw he/she/his/hers/they/their/it and random consonants into a bag and come out with something more 'english-y' than 'ze' or 'zir'. Something that looks better and rolls off the tongue so that it at least stands a chance of gaining traction...

Presumably so. I thought I'd seen these used here at XKCD Forums, though I find little evidence of that by Googling (aside from folks talking about why they're awful.) I agree that they're not very Englishy or smooth, and I would prefer, I think, something like te and ter.
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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby Pfhorrest » Fri May 24, 2013 10:20 pm UTC

While I see no problem more problem with using singular "they" than with singular "you" (and think if somehow the "royal we" became common, we could just get rid of singular pronouns entirely and just use we/you/they in the singular, appending "all" if necessary to specify plurality), you might be interested in Spivak pronouns, which essentially just drop the "th" from singular "they" uses. Another advantage of them I find is that they sound very much like the usual gendered pronouns spoken in an H-dropping accent, e.g. "ey" can pass loosely for "he", "em" can pass loosely for "him", "eir" can pass loosely for "her", etc.

"I saw em just a moment ago. Ey was walking to eir car all by eirself."

"I saw [h]im just a moment ago. [H]e was walking to [h]er car all by [h]erself."

The meaning in the last one seems confusing in current English usage because we assume the "he" who is walking is a different person from the "her" that the car belongs to, due to the different genders, and it's thus unclear who "herself" is supposed to apply to. But the point is that they at least sound like normal pronouns.
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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby Mikeski » Sat May 25, 2013 1:33 am UTC

Copper Bezel wrote:
nitePhyyre wrote:There already exists words for what you are trying to convey.

They're too plural and not pretentious enough.

As has been mentioned a few times before in these pronoun conversations, English has a singular genderless pronoun. It's been there for ages.

And if pretentiousness is the goal, one can not possibly sound more pretentious than using the word we've already got. I'm sure one would agree?

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Re: 1205: "Is It Worth the Time?"

Postby Copper Bezel » Sat May 25, 2013 1:59 am UTC

Eh. It's the wrong kind of pretension. I think of ze / zir as postmodern pretension, while one is more modernist or by-the-book. Randall [url="http://xkcd.com/977/"]has weighed in on them[/url] (see the caption for Hobo-Dyer,) and considers them more PC than simply nerdy, so I really shouldn't be surprised that they're taken that way.
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she / her / her


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